Politics & Government

Couture waiting for more vote counts; Sheldon holding firm in 2nd place

Republican Travis Couture was refusing to concede the 35th district Senate race Tuesday night, but new vote counts in Mason County favored incumbent Sen. Tim Sheldon on Wednesday. Sheldon is a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, and he expanded his second-place lead over Couture to 590 votes, up from 396 on election night.

That is good news for Republicans wanting to retain their majority coalition in the state Senate.

Like first-place-running Democrat Irene Bowling, Couture of Belfair said voters want a change in the Legislature. He campaigned claiming Sheldon, who joined the Legislature in 1991, had been in too long and become “corrupt.”

“I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished with very little resources,’’ said Couture, who works in Bremerton with a company that operates in the naval shipyards. “We’re pretty much a 33-and-a-third split; it’s really close.’’

Indeed Bowling had a little more than a third, Sheldon had a third of votes and Couture had a bit less.

Couture said he’d worked against hard currents. Although he had backing from Mason County Republicans, Sheldon was backed by Senate Republicans who want to be sure he returns in 2015 to keep intact their majority coalition.

Few saw Couture’s surge coming, but business groups worried about a Sheldon defeat had flooded the district with more than $161,000 in independent expenditures – largely mailers – that painted Sheldon, a Democrat, as a longtime friend of business.

Conventional wisdom is that Sheldon has a much easier time in the general election, when Couture supporters are more likely to join his camp than make an ideological leap to support Bowling. But Couture isn’t so sure his supporters will leap to Sheldon’s defense.

“Each one of my supporters is different. Some will hold their nose ... I’ve heard from some who would rather write someone in or skip it,’’ he said.

GRIFFEY ENDORSEMENTS : In House-race developments, Republican Dan Griffey received support from the third-place finisher Josiah Rowell in the race against eight-term incumbent Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton. New counts Wednesday gave Haigh just over 50 percent of the vote, but before Haigh’s recovery Griffey saw a potential opening he hoped to exploit.

“We did really well last night. I can tell you I don’t smoke and I smoked two cigars last night. It was that good a night,’’ Griffey said Wednesday by telephone. “I beat him and I beat him soundly. I’m going into the general and I’ll beat Kathy.’’

Griffey, who lost two previous match-ups with Haigh, also picked up support from his GOP rival.

“While I am disappointed that I did not move past the primary, I believe we have raised the issues that are important to voters in the 35th district. I respect their will to have Dan Griffey go on to win in November and bring a focus back to job creation, funding education first, and fighting for the rural economy,” Rowell said in a statement released by Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union. “I fully endorse Dan and ask my supporters to throw their support behind him for a successful November election.”

MacEwen had supported Rowell but said he also was throwing in behind Griffey. “Dan has my full support and I will do everything I can to ensure victory in November. I look forward to serving with him in Olympia this coming January. Our party is united and unified!” MacEwen said in an email.

Griffey, a firefighter from Allyn, said a problem for Haigh and Democrats in the 35th is “they don’t understand the problems the rural districts face.’’ He called for changing the landmark Growth Management Act from 1990 to allow local governments to decide what should be the long term land use policy goals.

He was unable to give examples of the “crippling” impacts he says the GMA is having in rural counties. But he said the law is having a negative impact on bringing industries to rural economies that once depended on timber harvesting.

In the other 35th district race, MacEwen was comfortably leading Democratic challenger Tammey Newton in the two-candidate primary where both advance automatically to the Nov. 4 ballot.