OLYMPIA — An array of political forces have shelled out more than $1 million to sway Snohomish County voters in state legislative contests ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
Those dollars are getting poured into digital ads, mailers and cable television commercials, attacking and promoting candidates in multiple House and Senate races.
With names like New Direction, Evergreen Progress, Sound Jobs and Concerned Taxpayers of Washington, these political action committees operate independent of campaigns, giving them greater freedom in how they punch and promote.
“June Robinson’s votes made Washington more dangerous,” blares a headline on a mailer hammering the Everett Democratic senator’s support of police reform bills.
It’s the handiwork of WA Wins, funded entirely by The Leadership Council, a political appendage of the Senate Republican Caucus. This PAC has unleashed similar-themed attacks on Democratic state Sen. John Lovick of Mill Creek and Sen. Marko Liias of Everett.
“The Republicans are coming after our reproductive rights, and they mean business,” begins a piece from New Direction backing Everett Democrat Mary Fosse for an open House seat in the 38th District. This PAC is bankrolled by statewide unions of health care workers, teachers, state employees and Democrat caucuses.
It ends with a jab at her Republican opponent, Mark James of Marysville.
“Their agenda is clear, and Mark is their man — and that makes him wrong for us.”
As of Friday, a shade under $1.3 million had been spent by independent political committees, above and beyond what candidates themselves are expending. The total, which will climb through the weekend, was divided pretty evenly between negative and positive approaches.
WA Wins leads all spenders. It has dumped a half-million dollars into pummeling the three incumbent senators, including $245,871 against Lovick, who was appointed to his seat in December.
Big spending on behalf of the Grand Old Party is no surprise.
Across the country, Republicans are looking to capitalize on voters’ frustration with President Joe Biden and concerns about inflation, gas prices, recession and public safety. Democrats, who control the levers of power in Congress as well as the state Legislature, are playing defense.
In Washington, Senate Republicans are sensing an opportunity to become the majority. Outnumbered 28-21, they would need to pick up four seats.
In the House, they face a greater challenge as Democrats enjoy a a 57-41 edge. Nonetheless, they and their allies have designs on seats in Snohomish County that have been occupied by Republicans in the not-too-distant past.
National politics isn’t the only catalyst for GOP hopes.
Redistricting is another. It added and subtracted voters in every legislative and congressional district. Parties out of power tend to spend a little more to see if the new maps improved their fortunes.
“They’re prospecting. I think (Republicans) think redistricting has strengthened their hand,” said Bill Phillips, founding partner of Terra Firma Consulting in Snohomish County, which works with Democratic candidates. “There’s a lot of probing for weaknesses right now.”
In Snohomish County, a major battleground is the 44th District, a swing district by virtue of having elected Republicans and Democrats in the same election cycle in the past.
Lovick is in the spotlight due to the sheer volume of ads against him. Jeb Brewer, his Republican opponent, has not raised or spent much. At this stage, the cash might not be critical. If the anticipated wave develops as expected, it could lift and carry him across the finish line, said Alex Hays, a veteran Republican consultant.
“Joe Biden is going to have a bigger impact on John Lovick than anything,” he said.
The district’s Democratic Reps. April Berg of Mill Creek and Brandy Donaghy of Everett have been targets this cycle too. New Direction has also spent a collective $150,000 to boost their campaigns.
Their Republican opponents, Ryne Rohla of Silver Lake and Mark Harmsworth of Mill Creek, have had a similar experience. New Direction sent one negative mailer against each, while Evergreen Progress, whose money comes from the state Republican Party coffers, produced three positive pieces for each.
In the 10th District, all the outside money had gone to either pump up Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, or his Republican challenger, Karen Lesetmoe — until the past week. Evergreen Progress and Sound Jobs, a pro-business PAC, then launched four mail pieces against the incumbent. Meanwhile, those two groups along with the National Association of Realtors have spent $141,000 to boost Lesetmoe’s candidacy.
This is the pattern every primary.
“(Republicans) are looking for that opening of where they can pick off a seat or two,” Phillips said, adding Democrats must keep pace. “The price of winning is you have to defend what you have.”