The Republican incumbents in the two races for Spokane County Commission have won the battle for funds that fuel the campaigns for re-election. But their Democratic challengers say the bigger war chests won’t necessarily bring victories.
Recent history backs them up: Two years ago, Democratic challenger Bonnie Mager defeated longtime Republican incumbent Phil Harris even though Harris outspent her, $105,825 to $69,489.
As of Wednesday, District 1 incumbent Republican Todd Mielke had raised $160,975 compared with $103,643 for Democratic challenger Kim Thorburn.
And in the race for District 2, incumbent Republican Mark Richard had raised $99,806 compared with $44,974 for Democrat Brian Sayrs.
Former commissioner Kate McCaslin, a Republican, said she doesn’t believe Sayrs has raised enough to overcome Richard’s name-recognition advantage.
“This is what I always tell people: You don’t have to raise all the money in the world, but you have to raise enough,” said McCaslin, president of Associated Builders and Contractors. “But $44,000 is pretty dismal. It just is.”
McCaslin said she supports Mielke but is not supporting anyone in the Richard-Sayrs race. But McCaslin said Thorburn has raised enough to challenge Mielke.
“I don’t know how she’s spent it, but $100,000 can get you there if you spend it right,” she said.
Another former commissioner, Democrat John Roskelley, had a different take. He supports Thorburn, who left her job at Planned Parenthood to campaign, and Sayrs, a seven-year member of the Liberty Lake City Council.
“Typically, Democrats have a more difficult time raising money. I don’t see it as a real stumbling block for Brian,” Roskelley said.
Thorburn’s relative success may have to do with name recognition. Thorburn is the Spokane Regional Health District’s former chief officer.
“I believe the Democrats felt that Kim’s race is significant, and she probably has a better chance of succeeding against Mielke,” Roskelley said. “I imagine that is why she raised more funds.”
Mielke said he’s pleased with his fundraising.
Four years ago, he raised $135,000 in his successful bid to become a county commissioner after several years in the state Legislature and working as a lobbyist.
“The difference from four years ago is with the intensity of the presidential campaign and governor’s race, you have to be far more creative to get your message out … because there is so much more competition for people’s attention,” he said.
For their parts, Thorburn and Sayrs remain upbeat about their chances.
“This was kind of the fundraising goal I set because I knew this is what I would be up against,” Thorburn said. “It does cost money to get your message out. We have used ours very wisely.”
Richard, who remains about $2,000 behind the $102,000 he raised to defeat Democrat Bill Burke in 2004, said he set out to raise about $80,000.
“I think fundraising has gone well in light of the economic times we are facing,” he said.
Sayrs, who’s about $55,000 behind, said he doesn’t see smaller budget as a disadvantage.
“I’ve had a lot of volunteers, and truth is cheaper,” he said. “People are actively searching for somebody different, so that has helped my name recognition. When it’s about the people and not the special interests, people like me do better.”