OLYMPIA – With control of the Washington Senate in the balance, legislative candidates could pull in record amounts of money, and some ballot measure campaigns are spending heavily as the election deadline approaches.
Their fates may be decided by a relatively small number of voters. Early turnout is light throughout the state, and less than half of Spokane County’s eligible voters are expected to return their ballots this fall.
As of Wednesday, nearly two weeks after ballots were mailed out, about 17 percent of Spokane voters had either mailed them back or deposited them in drop boxes located around the county. Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin estimated about 45 percent of county voters eventually will return ballots.
“It’s a complicated ballot,” McLaughlin said, with several initiatives and a long list of judicial candidates.
Voters may be holding onto their ballots to study the issues, he said. Voters tended to cast ballots early during the presidential election in 2012, but not in the latest midterm elections in 2010, when the county received a flood of ballots in the final three days.
The state does not have a hotly contested U.S. Senate race that often energizes voters, and only about 16 percent of ballots had been turned in statewide by Wednesday. Secretary of State Kim Wyman has not revised her earlier forecast of a 62 percent turnout, a spokesman said.
Those who haven’t voted can expect to have their mailboxes filled with political ads during the next week as campaigns target the ballots that remain out. They’ll be reminded of the campaigns by turning on the TV or surfing the Internet.
Legislative campaigns had raised some $25.1 million as of Tuesday, the last deadline for reporting expenses before ballots are due in the Nov. 4 election. That’s only slightly behind the record $26.2 million raised in all of 2012, and contributions often continue long after the ballot deadline passes.
That includes some high-spending campaigns that could decide control of the state Senate for the next two years. Democrats currently hold 25 seats in the chamber, but two of their members have joined with the 24 Republicans for the past two years to form a majority coalition caucus.
Nine Senate campaigns feature opponents both spending in six figures, including Spokane’s 6th District, where incumbent Republican Mike Baumgartner has raised more than $480,000 and his Democratic challenger Rich Cowan more than $269,000. That’s the sixth-most expensive Senate race in Washington so far; at the top is the 45th District of King County, where freshman Republican Andy Hill has raised $957,000 and his Democratic opponent Matt Isenhower almost $467,000.
Although Democrats are likely to keep control of the state House of Representatives, there are some high-spending House races, including one in Spokane Valley’s 4th District, where incumbent Matt Shea has raised $120,000 and challenger Josh Arritola more than $106,000. The outcome of that race won’t change control of the House, however; both Shea and Arritola are Republicans.
The campaign for Initiative 594, which would expand background checks for gun purchases, leads spending for all ballot measures with more than $11 million raised between two committees. That total has been boosted since mid-October by a $285,000 contribution from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and more than $660,000 from Everytown for Gun Safety, a political action committee that he helps lead. Everytown also gave another $216,000 to a separate committee it set up to support I-594.
In the past week, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the main committee supporting I-594, has spent some $631,000 on television ads and more than $150,000 on mailings. The committee moved some of its money to a separate PAC it calls a “Victory Fund,” which is making contributions to key legislators who have supported gun control legislation in the past.
Groups opposing I-594 and supporting I-591, which wouldn’t allow Washington to change its background check laws unless there’s a new federal standard, have about $1.8 million. Most of their contributions since mid-October were for $500 or less, but the National Rifle Association gave about $54,000 to a PAC that includes its name that opposes I-594, bringing the NRA’s total to that group to about $485,000. The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Washington Arms Collectors, who have provided much of the money for pro-591 Protect our Gun Rights, each gave another $50,000.
The committee supporting Initiative 1351, a proposal to reduce class sizes in public schools, has raised about $4.5 million, most of it from state and national teacher unions. In the past week, the Class Size Counts committee has spent $425,000 on TV advertising, more than $140,000 on mailings and $125,000 on Internet ads.
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