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Whidbey Republicans leading Dems in campaign cash

What a difference a few months can make.

In early February, Democrats were jammed elbow to elbow in caucuses across Island County. And the progressive surge continued through the state’s presidential primary, when record numbers of Democrats voted in Island County and the party topped Republican turnout for the first time in history.

Fast forward to June, and it’s Republicans who are jamming — dollars into the campaign coffers of their candidates.

Despite the historic showing earlier in the 2008 campaign cycle, Democrats are trailing Republicans in donations to political campaigns in local races, according to an extensive review of campaign finance records.

Republicans have also outpaced Democrats in contributions to the party’s central committee in Island County since the presidential primary. Those “non-exempt” committee contributions can be used for anything the party wants, including supporting candidates in the upcoming primary and general elections.

The Republican cash advantage is surprising, given the talk of another “blue wave” that’s expected to mimic the 2006 election where voters anxious for change swept Republicans from office.

Candidates and party officials from both sides, however, say fundraising this year has been especially difficult as people tighten their purse strings amid a sputtering economy. Some candidates freely admit their fundraising efforts have fallen short or have been scaled back as potential donors struggle with higher food prices, $4-a-gallon gas, and other rising costs.

“It’s hard for me to ask for money. A lot of folks are having a tough time of it,” said Republican Phil Bakke, one of four candidates for the Island County District 1 commissioner’s seat. “I filled my dad’s pick-up with gas; it was $125.”

“It would have to affect you. We don’t all get pay raises because it costs you twice as much for gas,” he added. “It makes me uneasy to go out and ask, I need $25, $50 from you.”

Bakke, the incumbent, has raised $23,085 through June. He trails Democratic challenger Helen Price Johnson, who has raised $33,301. The totals reflect contributions made in Island County and beyond.

Republican candidate Reece Rose, who has been running for the position since she lost in the same race in 2003, has amassed contributions of $10,808. Curt Gordon, the non-party candidate in the race, has brought in $4,197 in contributions.

“People are tightening their belts. We know that because sales tax

revenues are down from last year, real estate is down. Everything,” Bakke said. “I’m certainly not going to complain about raising $25,000.”

Price Johnson said her campaign had hoped to raise more money, and earlier.

“The economics are changing. Money is a lot tighter than what we hoped,” she said. “The rising gas prices, and healthcare costs, and food costs, at least from the folks supporting my campaign, it has an impact.”

Contributions are also smaller.

“People are often saying, ‘I wish I could give you more,’” Price Johnson said. “A lot of people just don’t have as much disposable income to put toward the candidates.”

Still, she said the campaign was on track.

“I’m really pleased with the broad base of support that I’ve been able to achieve,” Price Johnson said. “In that way, we are on target.”

By the numbers

Though Republican candidates lead in the total amount of in-county contributions raised in contested races at the local and state level, there are a few brights spots for the Democrats, according to finance records on file with the state.

Democrats lead the GOP in contributions to county commissioner races so far this year.

Republican candidates for county commissioner have pulled in $26,519, from Island County votes alone. Over the same time span, contributions to Democratic candidates for commissioner are $33,795.

It’s a different story in the races for the state House of Representatives and the Senate, however.

Republican candidates have pulled in $53,720 since January 2007, while Democrats have collected cash contributions of $30,256.

All told, Republicans are leading in the money race in local and legislative races from donors in Island County. Republican candidates have brought in $80,239, while Democratic candidates have amassed $64,051.

Add in the race for governor and the Republican advantage in collecting campaign contributions in Island County becomes even more lopsided.

Challenger Dino Rossi has collected $51,192 in donations in the county since the start of 2007, while incumbent Gov. Christine Gregoire has raised $23,700.

Combined with donations to contested local and legislative races, that brings the Republican total to $131,431, compared to $87,751 in contributions on the Democratic side.

It’s the candidates

Kathy Jones, chairwoman of the Island County Republican Party Central Committee, said there is a simple reason why Republicans have outraised the Democrats by more than $43,000 in Island County donations so far.

“It’s the candidates themselves, more than the party. That explains people’s willingness to dig into their pockets in these tough times,” Jones said.

“I think that locally there’s a lot of excitement about the Republican candidates that we have in the race,” she said.

Jones said she’s seen it out on the campaign trail when she’s been doorbelling with candidates.

“They’re really being very warmly received,” she said. “People are just responding to the fact that these are people who really care about improving our way of life in the 10th Legislative District,” Jones said. “People are just fed up with the same stories from politicians; they want solutions. They’re tired of the rhetoric and they want people who are really going to work for improvement in our community.”

The Republican committee is nearly midway through its fundraising cycle. Annual party dues and donations from the Lincoln Party Dinner, one of the party’s major benefit events, were collected in February.

The county GOP’s next big fundraiser is at the Island County Fair in August.

“I think we’re very comfortable with where we are, knowing that most of the money in campaigns is spent right before the election. We know there will be spending in July and October,” she said.

Democrats are leading in contributions to local and legislative races in Langley, Coupeville and Camano.

Republicans are leading in the race for money from Clinton, Freeland, Greenbank and Oak Harbor.

It’s been a mixed bag for the candidates themselves.

Bakke has raised the most money out of any local candidate in Greenbank ($6,600), while Price Johnson is winning the fundraising battle in Langley ($11,850) and Freeland ($5,350).

Angie Homola, the Democratic candidate in the commissioner’s race in District 2, is outpacing all other candidates in contributions from Coupeville donors ($6,300).

Rep. Norma Smith, the Republican incumbent in the House of Representatives for the 10th District’s Position 1, has raised the most money of any candidate in Clinton ($3,980).

Patricia Terry, one of two Democrats seeking the Position 2 House seat in the 10th District, is leading all local candidates in the amount of money collected on Camano Island ($3,924).

And Linda Haddon, the Republican challenger in the 10th District Senate race, leads all local candidates in the amount of money raised in Oak Harbor ($18,754).

Haddon’s fundraising prowess in Oak Harbor has made her competitive in the race against incumbent Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, who has held her Senate seat since 1992. State Republicans have targeted Haugen this election cycle, and have repeatedly hammered the incumbent on last year’s shutdown of the Keystone-Port Townsend ferry run. Haugen is the chairwoman of the Senate transportation committee.

Jones said people across the political spectrum are getting excited about Haddon’s campaign.

“Frankly, people are fed up with Mary Margaret Haugen’s lack of leadership,” Jones said. “I think she should be embarrassed that she is chair of the transportation committee, considering the absolute disaster we have on our roads and ferry system.”

“Linda has a broad base of support. She’s hearing from many Democrats who are contacting her and are saying, ‘We’re fed up.’”

Bakke, however, noted that Haugen could not raise campaign contributions while the Legislature was in session.

“Mary Margaret had a job to do the first part of the year. And I think she’s probably being targeted a little bit for having the seat so long. And the ferry situation,” he said.

“Linda is actively beating the bushes,” Bakke added, noting the numerous fundraisers the political newcomer has already held.

“The money given to the Republican Party is coming from the same old sources,” countered Courtney Jones, Haugen’s campaign manager.

“Democrats have a new exciting challenge to mobilize the base of support through the people that turned out to support a Democratic presidential candidate in the primaries. Sen. Haugen remains ahead in fundraising against her Republican opponent and the gap should continue to increase.”

Work is just beginning

Marshall Goldberg, chairman of the Island County Democratic Central Committee, said the Republican advantage in Island County fundraising was surprising. Goldberg said party volunteers have been working on other areas, such as the recent conventions, and not on donation drives.

“We have not put much energy into it,” he said. “We have not spent a great deal of time on fundraising.

“That doesn’t mean that we won’t. It’s still early in the season, relatively speaking,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said the low amount in the party’s coffers is also because the party has yet to hold its two biggest fundraisers; its “summerfest” on July 18 in Langley and its August efforts at the Island County Fair.

Officials in both parties, Goldberg included, said money is vital to the campaigns.

Candidates need three things, he said.

“They need exposure; people need to know who they are. And then they need the money to help them get that exposure, then they need the volunteers.”

“I think money is important, but I think it’s important what kind of organization you have on the ground.

“If you have a deficit in funding, you can make it up if you have an abundance of enthusiastic volunteers who go out and work for you,” Goldberg said.

“If I had to pick between money and people, I would pick people before the money. You’ll get more back,” he added.

The relatively lackluster fundraising by Democrats in Island County comes amid an election cycle that many expected to be dominated by Democratic candidates at the national level.

Political observers said the 2006 Congressional election and sour mood of voters helped Democrats at the local level, where the party picked up a seat on the board of county commissioners and tallied enough wins to control half of the elected positions in county government.

County Commissioner John Dean spent more than $71,000 on the race two years ago.

Money is crucial

Dean, the Democrat who unseated Republican Bill Byrd in the 2006 election where Democrats routed Republicans at the local and national level, set the campaign bar for commissioner races at a new high. He spent more than $70,000 in the race.

Money means a lot to a campaign, he said.

“I thought it was very important.

“I came with a prejudice about it,” he added, recalling his past career as a newsman. “I used to think about people buying the election. I kind of had that bias about it until I got into it myself.”

With money comes exposure. And campaign money isn’t buying an election, but paying for something else.

“It’s buying the ability to get into people’s homes.”

Dean’s successful run included television commercials — a first in the county commissioner’s race — as well as radio spots and direct mail pieces. Roughly $30,000 was spent on cable TV.

“That’s why I went pretty hard and heavy to raise a lot of money, to be able to do the things I wanted to do to have access,” he said.

“Somebody at the beginning of my campaign asked if I was going to win, place or show. And I decided early on, I’m not going to go and not give it my best shot.”

Even so, he said at candidate can have all the money in the world and still not get elected, he said.

“Resources to get your message out are always important,” added Price Johnson. “That’s how campaigns are run.”

“A whole lot of work goes into doorbelling and meeting people face to face, but if you don’t have a piece of paper to hand them when you get there...”

Party still optimistic

Goldberg, the chairman for Island County Democrats, said the party still has work to do.

And though Democrats left 31 vacant spots on the ballot for the position of precinct committee officers across Whidbey and Camano islands — including solidly progressive precincts such as Langley 1, Maxwelton and Lone Lake — Goldberg has a glass-half-full view.

“Basically, 32 precincts have at least one candidate,” he said. “That, to me, is remarkable.”

Two years earlier, only 16 precincts had candidates.

“We’ve doubled the number of precincts for which Democrats are vying to become elected PCOs.”

Republicans, by contrast, have fielded 44 candidates for PCO positions, and 29 precincts have no candidates.

Democrats did not contest every county race, either.

Despite a four-way match-up for the District 1 commissioner’s race, and a two-way race for the District 2 commissioner’s seat, the Democrats failed to field a candidate for county auditor.

Sheilah Crider, who was appointed last year after Republican Suzanne Sinclair quit the post for a job in New York, is running unopposed.

Goldberg said the party did not try to recruit a candidate for the auditor’s race.

Goldberg also said someone — he declined to give a name — approached him to talk about the auditor’s job the week before candidate filing week, and he later saw she never filed to run.

Give Crider some credit, too, he said.

“You have to make a case against running against someone. I don’t think anyone of us can make a strong case against running against her. She’s done a very good job,” he said.

The Democrats have not sought out candidates, either.

“I don’t think we’re in the business to run candidates just to run candidates,” Goldberg said. “I don’t think we’re just looking for warm bodies.”

Goldberg praised the Democrats who have landed on the ticket.

“I don’t think the Democratic Party in recent history has fielded a better group of candidates … to run for office.”

They are better qualified, he said, they know the issues and they’re committed to looking at big picture solutions.

Voters in Island County also have a chance to make history. The first female commissioner could get elected, or the majority on the traditionally right-leaning board of commissioners may swing to the left with the election of the second Democrat to the three-member body.

Goldberg likes how history could be made here.

“This is the year of the Democrat,”

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