Sixteen percent of the Democratic incumbent's campaign cash is from out of state, compared with 3 percent of GOP's Rossi.

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John Coale lives near the white sandy beaches of Clearwater, Fla., about as far from Washington state as you can be in the lower forty-eight.

Coale, a trial lawyer, can’t vote in Washington, but he and his law firm have contributed $5,000 to Gov. Christine Gregoire’s re-election campaign. Coale says he knows and likes Gregoire from their work together suing tobacco companies in the 1990s.

Out-of-state donors like Coale have helped the Democratic incumbent shatter state records for campaign fundraising. They’re also a key reason she has a fundraising edge over Republican Dino Rossi, who’s mounting the second-most expensive campaign for governor in state history.

Gregoire has collected $1.1 million more than Rossi from out of state. She has more contributors from Massachusetts than he has from all 49 states outside Washington combined.

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In all, 16 percent of Gregoire’s $8.6 million in campaign cash has come from out of state, compared with 3 percent of Rossi’s $6.7 million. Were it not for out-of-state money, Rossi could say he’s close to matching Gregoire in fundraising.

Rossi’s campaign says the out-of-state disparity shows he is more focused on Washington, and voters are responding to his grass-roots effort.

“We don’t need as many outside interest groups telling us what’s best for our state. We haven’t had any problems raising money here, so we haven’t had to do a big push to raise money out of state,” said Rossi spokeswoman Jill Strait.

Gregoire’s campaign says her out-of-state money is a testament to her work on tobacco litigation and other issues that have given her national exposure.

Some supporters say the contributions more reflect her standing as one of the nation’s prominent female politicians.

“Governor Gregoire has tremendous stature with women across the country. There are not that many women governors who stand out,” said Ramona Oliver, spokeswoman for EMILY’s List, a political-action committee that raises money for pro-choice Democratic women candidates.

Gregoire has collected tens of thousands of dollars from national corporations that do business in Washington state, such as Verizon and BNSF Railway. But the vast majority of her out-of-state contributions come from individuals, and most of those come in amounts of $100 or less.

Rossi’s biggest out-of-state donor is Bob Perry, a Texas developer who was the biggest financier of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group that attacked John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign; second is Peter Carfagna from Ohio, majority owner of the Everett AquaSox baseball team that Rossi has invested in. Perry and his wife gave $6,400, while Carfagna and his wife gave $5,600.

Coale, a big Democratic donor, says he saw Gregoire in action when she was Washington state’s attorney general and lead negotiator in a national tobacco settlement that is expected to pay out more than $200 billion to 46 states, including an estimated $4.5 billion to Washington.

“Almost every other attorney general would come in for the cameras, but she rolled up her sleeves and worked hard,” said Coale, a private lawyer who represented plaintiffs suing tobacco companies.

Even tobacco-company lawyers have contributed to Gregoire. Meyer Koplow, former lead negotiator for cigarette maker Philip Morris, has, along with his wife, given $5,600.

Gregoire’s out-of-state prowess — she has more than 5,000 donors outside Washington compared with 249 for Rossi — is nothing new.

When the two squared off in 2004, Gregoire held a similar advantage, raising $1.2 million more than Rossi from outside Washington. And her percentage of out-of-state contributions was even greater in 2004 than this year. Gregoire raised 22 percent of her money from out of state then, to Rossi’s 3 percent.

Some credit her fundraising consultant Tracy Newman, who worked for former President Clinton and presidential candidate Al Gore and has far-reaching Democratic connections. But others say Gregoire’s out-of-state success has more to do with EMILY’s List, which steered $11 million to pro-choice Democratic women candidates in 2006.

EMILY’s List — the acronym stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast (it helps the dough rise) — doesn’t itself collect money and send it to Gregoire. Instead, it recommends candidates to its 116,000 members. “Then members decide who to support and make contributions directly,” Oliver said.

She said EMILY’s List doesn’t track what its members give to different candidates. But she said the organization sees Gregoire’s re-election bid as “exceptionally important” and one of the few competitive races for governor in the country.

Four years ago, the state Republican Party complained that EMILY’s List was violating a state law that bans special-interest groups from collecting money on behalf of a candidate.

But the complaint that EMILY’s List was illegally “bundling” contributions was dismissed by the state Public Disclosure Commission. The PDC concluded the group was only soliciting money for Gregoire, not collecting it.

According to national statistics, the governor’s race in Washington is a little unusual.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics has tracked out-of-state contributions in governor’s races since 1999. Among the 300 candidates who raised more than $1 million in that time, Gregoire has received more from out of state than most and Rossi less — but not dramatically so.

Gregoire doesn’t come close to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, who grabbed a whopping 38 percent of his $13 million in 2006 contributions from non-New Mexicans.

And Rossi isn’t anywhere near Rick Perry, a Republican who was re-elected governor of Texas in 2006, with less 1 percent of his $20 million in campaign contributions from outside the Lone Star State.

Ed Bender, director of the Helena, Mont.-based institute, cautioned against drawing quick conclusions about money that’s gone directly to the candidates from outside Washington.

More out-of-state money might go to fuel attack ads by independent groups, such as the Republican Governors Association or the Evergreen Progress PAC, a group financed by the unions and the Democratic Governors Association.

Gregoire might also be attracting so many donations because she’s a strong woman in a high-profile race, in what some see as a swing state, Bender said.

“If some contributor is trying to get something down the road, then yes, out-of-state money is bad,” he said. “But if you’re in a knock-down, drag-out fight, then candidates are going to grab what they can. It’s the big dollars from corporate types that are usually the lighting rods for us to look at.”

Staff reporter Justin Mayo contributed to this story. Information from The Seattle Times archives

also is included in this report.

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