BOTHELL — If you want to make retiring Democratic state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe squirm a little, ask her who she wants to succeed her in the Legislature.
She’ll say she wants her party to retain the 1st Legislative District seat she’s held for 24 years. But she isn’t endorsing the Democratic candidate, Guy Palumbo.
Nor, on Monday, was she prepared to publicly commit to voting for him.
“That’s a hard question. I think it’s a little early for me to answer that,” she said. “It’s still September. We have until November.”
McAuliffe’s discomfort is a byproduct of a fiercely contested primary in which Palumbo narrowly beat her choice for the seat, Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Bothell. Palumbo, of Maltby, now faces Republican Mindie Wirth of Bothell in the Nov. 8 election.
She said she had told Palumbo earlier this year that she’d endorse him if he ran for Moscoso’s seat in the House. That’s not what happened.
And she said she didn’t like the tone of the primary or that an outside group funded by backers of charter schools ran an independent campaign in support of Palumbo. McAuliffe opposes charter schools, Palumbo doesn’t.
Moscoso isn’t backing Palumbo either and may still be campaigning against him. On Sept. 6, in a lengthy post on his campaign Facebook page, Moscoso blasted Palumbo as “underhanded,” “deceitful” and an “unscrupulous opportunist.”
The lawmaker called him a “Democrat of convenience.” He referred to 2012 when Palumbo ran unsuccessfully for the same Senate seat and initially campaigned as an independent before changing his party affiliation for the ballot.
Palumbo wrote in an email Monday that the lack of the lawmakers’ support isn’t hampering his campaign.
“As someone who has lost an election before, I understand how difficult it is to fall short and I empathize with Rep. Moscoso,” he wrote. “As I’ve said recently, although Rep. Moscoso and I overwhelmingly share the same views on issues facing the voters of the 1st Legislative District, I will not take it for granted that I will automatically receive the support of his voters.”
As to McAuliffe, Palumbo wrote, “It’s obviously disappointing but it doesn’t change my focus which is talking to voters.”
Several Democratic elected officials who backed Moscoso are now behind Palumbo. Among them are state Rep. Derek Stanford, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, King County Sheriff John Urquhart and Shelley Kloba, the Kirkland City Councilwoman running for Moscoso’s House seat. The 1st Legislative Democrats organization has backed Palumbo too.
Meanwhile, this political commotion could prove beneficial to Wirth.
She’s met with the lawmakers and each said nice things about her afterward.
McAuliffe praised her knowledge on education and Moscoso wrote that Wirth asked “how she could better appreciate my views … as well as those of the residents of the 1st LD who have elected only Democrats for the last 24 years.”
Wirth denied Moscoso had supplied her with any political intel such as his donor list. But she seized on the lawmakers’ unwillingness to back Palumbo as evidence of a longstanding “concern” among Democrats about his party loyalty.
“Where does he really stand?” Wirth said. “Is this a party of convenience?”
Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said Palumbo is a “good Democrat” and expressed disappointment at doubts sowed by Moscoso.
“Losing is difficult, I understand,” she said. “I find it regretful that Rep. Moscoso is using the situation at this point in time the way that he is. I’m optimistic that some of the vitriolic language goes away soon.”
History favors Palumbo given Democrats’ long hold on the seat. And in the primary, 60 percent of voters cast ballots for one of the two Democratic candidates.
Even McAuliffe said it should turn out fine.
“He’s working hard, he’s smart, he’s doing all the right things,” she said. “Should he win the seat he’ll have earned it.”