Mudslinging starts early in race for Pierce County state Senate seat

Campaign for Pierce County legislative seat sees first hit piece — before filing week

Staff writerMay 18, 2014 

Tami Green, left, and Steve O'Ban.


West Pierce County voters, prepare to be wooed.

The 28th Legislative District has become a key battleground for control of the state Senate, with both parties concentrating on the race between state Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, and state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place.

A conservative political committee has already paid $42,000 for a TV ad attacking Green, the first independent ad purchase in any legislative race this year.

The hit piece — which began airing six months before the general election and days before candidates could even file to run for office — suggests there could be plenty of mudslinging yet to come.

Democrats need to pick up two more seats this fall to regain control of the Legislature’s upper chamber, which a mostly Republican majority has controlled for two years.

Republicans, for their part, would like to win at least one more seat so they could form a majority without the aid of a conservative Democrat, Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch.

Both parties are keying in on the 28th Legislative District, a politically moderate part of Pierce County that includes Lakewood, Steilacoom, University Place, Fircrest, DuPont, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and parts of Tacoma.

“This is going to get a lot of focus from both sides this year because it’s a swing district,” said Stan Shore, the campaign manager for the political committee that bought the ad against Green. “It’s one that I think both sides think they can win.”

Shore’s group, the Good Government Leadership Council, gets its money from a political committee run by Senate Republicans.

Its ad against Green, which began airing more than two weeks ago, criticizes her as a political game-player who has accepted $690,000 over the years from special interest groups. It slams Green for her votes to raise taxes, cut school spending and raise college tuition, and cites incidents in which she violated campaign finance laws and legislative ethics rules.

Other phrases displayed but not addressed in the ad include “big oil,” “union organizer,” “prostitution,” and “she’s changed.”

David Domke, a professor who chairs the Department of Communication at the University of Washington, said launching a disparaging TV spot before Memorial Day isn’t unheard of, but it shows “a goal of really driving down the credibility and the image of the target of the ad.”

“The general sentiment is that when you’re talking about a state race, voters aren’t really paying attention until after Labor Day,” said Domke, whose research focuses on the effects of political messages.

That timeline might be changing now that Washington counties have switched to voting entirely by mail, Domke said.

“Ballots are available much earlier than they used to be, so you have to create a negative image of a candidate earlier,” Domke said.

Green said last week she was disappointed that negative campaigning has already begun, but sees it as a sign that Republicans view her as a significant threat.

“This isn’t unexpected, because we know this is going to be a race that is going to determine power in the Senate,” Green said.

O’Ban, Green’s opponent, said he’s been on the receiving end of similar ads before, so he “can feel Tami’s pain.” He said he expects more independent ads will target him and Green as the election gets closer.

“That’s just going to be a feature of this hard-fought campaign,” O’Ban said.

Besides O’Ban, Democrats are hoping to unseat Sheldon, the conservative Democrat who joined the mostly Republican Senate majority. They’re also targeting Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard; Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale; and Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond.

Additionally, both parties are fighting to claim open seats left by the retirement of Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, and Sen. Rodney Tom, a Medina Democrat who previously led the GOP-dominated majority.

Hill’s campaign has raised the most money of all the legislative races so far, but O’Ban’s campaign has spent the most: $72,736, as of the latest campaign finance disclosure. Much of that money has gone to online advertising, mailers and campaign consultants.

Green’s campaign has spent only $23,777, recent records show, with most of it going toward political consulting.

O’Ban has outraised Green, too, collecting $115,309 in contributions so far to her $52,700.

Both candidates have name recognition in the district, having run campaigns and appeared on the ballot several times.

Green, 54, was first elected to the state House in 2004 after running unsuccessfully in 2000. She’s a registered nurse who works at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.

O’Ban, 52, is a lawyer who first won election to the state House in 2012 after losing a close race in 2010.

After serving in the House less than six months, O’Ban was appointed to the state Senate last year to replace former Republican Sen. Mike Carrell, who died in office.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209

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