More than $161,000 in independent ads or phone calls have now flooded into the 35th Legislative District on behalf of state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, most of it in the past week as Tuesday’s primary election approaches.
The spending tops Sheldon’s own campaign outlays, and business groups are behind at least four separate political committees’ mailings that are landing in mailboxes.
For Republicans, re-electing Sheldon means it is more likely their Senate Majority Coalition retains power in the Senate, serving as a block against bills backed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and House majority Democrats, which may not be as friendly to business.
For Senate Democrats, defeating Sheldon would improve their odds of taking back the Senate, which could advance environmental legislation and lead to closure of a few tax exemptions.
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Because Washington has a top two primary, only the top two candidates move to November, so Sheldon must beat either libertarian-leaning Republican Travis Couture of Belfair or Democrat Irene Bowling of Bremerton to survive.
“I think it is a pivotal race,” said Patrick Connor, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, which sent a mailer that began landing in district mailboxes Wednesday.
“Sen. Sheldon was one of two Democrats to join with Republicans to form the (Senate) Majority Coalition. As a result small business avoided a whole lot” of unfavorable tax and regulatory actions.
The mailer notes NFIB is fighting against “Seattle-style policies” such as higher minimum wage, sick leave mandates and paid vacations.
State Democrats also have hit back at Sheldon, but the party has not reported the cost.
Its mailer points out Sheldon has held two positions — state senator and Mason County commissioner — and was “hitting the jackpot” with two salaries while many were struggling.
Besides the NFIB piece, pro-Sheldon mailers also were sent by two committees formed by an array of business groups, as well as by the Washington Health Care Association that represents nursing homes and by the Washington Dental PAC. Stand for Children, an education-reform group, also spent on automated phone calls to voters in the district in favor of Sheldon.
The biggest outlay among them was $78,425 spent by Taxpayers for Sheldon. That group’s donors are actually political-action committees that include the Washington Association of Realtors PAC, which gave $30,000; Building Industry Association of Washington, $15,000; Physicians Insurance, $10,000; Washington Beverage Association PAC, $10,000; DOC PAC of Washington, $5,000; WashBankPAC, $5,000; Washington Restaurant Association PAC, $5,000; Washington Food Industry Association PAC, $2,500; MAC PAC, $1,500; and the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers Civil Defense PAC, $1,000.
Also spending big in the race is Enterprise Washington, whose Issaquah-based PAC supports candidates that back business, jobs and economic development, according to Michael Davis, president of Enterprise Washington.
Its People for Jobs Enterprise Washington PAC has raised more than $400,000 this election cycle and spent $45,875 to support Sheldon as of Thursday.
“At this point with such close margins, every competitive race puts partisan control (of the Senate) in the balance. Our focus is getting as many pro-business candidates elected.”
Davis described the race as “competitive” and said it in many ways is “being treated as a general election. So we want to do everything we can.”
Sheldon’s campaign has raised $222,413 and spent $157,589, and his larger donors read like a who’s-who list of interest groups at the Capitol that run from insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and oil companies to railroads.
Although Sheldon insists he is a Democrat, he has voted with majority Republicans in the Senate on major budget and policy bills the past two years.
Bowling, who has spent $40,607, sent a mailer to voters recently that includes a line: “Don’t be fooled! Irene Bowling is the only REAL Democrat running for State Senator!”
The Democratic challenger got an apparent boost from Thurston Democrats who gave $10,500 to her campaign on Tuesday.
Enterprise Washington’s PAC isn’t just supporting Sheldon in the primary with independent expenditures. It also is backing Republican Monique Trudnowski in a crowded field of five candidates in the 28th district that includes Lakewood and parts of Tacoma.