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Spin Control: Breaking with trend, campaign coffers relatively low in Spokane’s 6th District race

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 28, 2018

Republican state Rep. Jeff Holy is running against Democrat Jessa Lewis in the race for state Senate in the 6th Legislative District. They were photographed on Oct. 3, 2018 after a candidate forum at Eastern Washington University. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Republican state Rep. Jeff Holy is running against Democrat Jessa Lewis in the race for state Senate in the 6th Legislative District. They were photographed on Oct. 3, 2018 after a candidate forum at Eastern Washington University. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

For many years, Spokane’s 6th Legislative District could be counted on for two things.

It was reliably Republican. Its state Senate race would be one of – if not the – most expensive in the state.

That first standard lasted from the Great Depression to 2006, when Democrat Chris Marr beat Republican incumbent Brad Benson. The Marr-Benson race was the spendiest in the state that year, topping a record set in the 2002 race between Republican Sen. Jim West and Democrat Laurie Dolan.

The 2010 race between incumbent Marr and Republican challenger Mike Baumgartner was again the most expensive. After the candidates spent about $975,000 between them, and independent groups spent another $300,000 saying nice things about one or nasty things about the other, the race topped seven figures.

Baumgartner’s re-election campaign against Democrat Rich Cowan in 2014 was only the sixth most expensive in the state, in part because of competitive races in Western Washington, where everything is more expensive, and because the independent groups weren’t nearly as interested in risking money in a district that had been redrawn in 2011 to be more reliably red. Still some $800,000 was spent on that race, which, unless you had the winning Mega Millions ticket, is nothing to scoff at.

This year, it’s possible the campaign for an open seat between Republican Jeff Holy and Democrat Jessa Lewis might not even crack the Top 10, even though the race is shaping up to be much closer than 2014. Baumgartner beat Cowan by 15 percentage points four years ago. In the primary this year, Holy’s lead over Lewis was less than 5 percentage points. (Note: Due to an editing error, this story previously listed the results of the 2014 election.)

At last count, according to the Public Disclosure Commission, Lewis had raised about $223,000, less than any Democratic challenger since the 1990s. Holy, a three-term state representative who jumped into the senate race after Baumgartner decided to run for county treasurer, has even less, about $171,000.

While neither candidate is turning away contributors, both contend they have what they need for the kind of campaign they planned to run. Each said they are focusing on the “ground game” – what candidates call getting into the precincts, knocking on doors and asking people for their vote – rather than an extensive, expensive television and radio ad campaign.

“You can accessorize a ground game but you can’t just spend money to replace it,” Holy said.

The Senate Republican Committee has given him $20,000, equal to what it gave Baumgartner in his re-election campaign four years ago, but about a third of the nearly $60,000 that committee gave Baumgartner in his initial campaign.

Lewis said Democratic organizations are having to spread money over more races this year with a campaign theory of contesting “every race in every place.” Still, the state Democratic Campaign Committee has given her $40,000 – twice what it gave Cowan in 2014 or Marr in 2010. But the more valuable help the committee has given is “actual manpower,” in-kind contributions of staff to help with campaign operations.

Missing thus far from the 2018 race are the massive independent campaigns that marked the Marr vs. Baumgartner race in 2010. Independent campaigns often are more willing to “go negative” or cross a line from obnoxious to questionable.

The one exception this year is the mailer funded by a major donor to Donald Trump and a Republican activist that urges people who consider themselves “progressives” to cast a write-in ballot for someone who isn’t running.

Progressive groups that support Lewis but are mentioned in the ad in a way that suggests they support the write-in campaign have filed a complaint with the PDC and are talking about suing. A counter-ad by the Lewis campaign is part of an “ongoing discussion,” she said, but the phony write-in ad seems to be activating both volunteers and donors.

Holy, who said independent expenditure campaigns often throw a campaign off-message with “garbage tactics,” has denounced the ad. And while a candidate can’t tell an independent group what to do or not to do, he said his message is “Don’t do me any favors,” which may or may not keep them out of the 6th in the final 10 days.

Last call

The final, absolute, last day to register to vote in Washington is Monday. It requires an unregistered but otherwise eligible state resident to go to their county Elections Office to sign up.

But while you can’t register online, you can go to the secretary of state’s office at www.sos.wa.gov for information on who is eligible and who isn’t, what you’ll need to sign up, where your county elections office is, and how late it’s open.

Hint for Spokane readers: It’s at 1033 W. Gardner Ave., and it closes at 4 p.m.

If you wake up Nov. 6 wishing you could vote, but you can’t because you’re not registered, don’t say nobody warned you.

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