Politics & Government

Sen. Tim Sheldon survives primary as Couture concedes in costly 35th district race

State Sen. Tim Sheldon has survived the Aug. 5 primary and will be the second candidate — and Democrat — on the Nov. 4 ballot in the 35th district.

Republican challenger Travis Couture said Thursday he has conceded the race to Sheldon, whom he’d fought hard in a three-way race that almost evenly distributed votes among Couture, Sheldon and Democrat Irene Bowling of Bremerton. Bowling ended as the top vote-getter with about 35 percent overall. On Thursday, with hundreds of ballots still left to count in Washington’s vote-by-mail election, Bowling led Sheldon by 543 votes and Sheldon led Couture by 577.

Only the top two vote-getters move on in the top-two primary.

“I just don’t believe there are enough ballots to make a difference,” Couture said, adding that he expects Sheldon to win in November. “I haven’t endorsed anyone nor will I.”

Sheldon, who has been in the Legislature since 1991, expects to do better in November for largely the same numerical reasons Bowling hopes to beat him. As Sheldon sees it, two-thirds of voters went for conservatives (him and Couture), while Bowling says two-thirds voted against the incumbent, which is both true and unusual.

“I match with the very conservative nature of the district. It’s more conservative after redistricting,” Sheldon said, expecting to do better against Bowling than in the three-way race. “I think the Couture votes transfer quite easily to me because we both are quite conservative individuals.”

But Bowling says voters are tired of the likes of Sheldon, a career politician who also is a Mason County commissioner.

She said Sheldon and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, which he helped form in January 2013, have blocked progress on finding new money for K-12 schools, on finessing a construction funding package, and passing environmental legislation. Sheldon counters that the Senate majority developed bipartisan budgets that passed by votes of 44-4 and 48-1 in the past two years.

Business groups worried by tax increases and regulations clearly were worried Sheldon might lose in the top-two primary. They spent more than $167,748 independently from Sheldon’s campaign to pay for mailers and phone calls urging votes for him as a pro-business candidate. The Washington State Labor Council put $18,261 into a political committee called Real Representation in the 35th to support Bowling.

The campaign was one of the most costly in the state. Sheldon spent almost two-thirds of the $248,000 he’s raised so far, while Bowling spent $68,084 and Couture just $12,127. But Sheldon said he’s in good position with money for the homestretch.

In his concession sent to supporters, the libertarian-leaning Couture said: “We went toe-to-toe to giants and had them on their heels. But in the end it wasn’t enough. I am extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish, the message we were able to promote, and the conversation we were able to start in the 35th district. Our campaign with very little resources managed to do everything we could and left nothing on the table. I’ve never met a group of people with so much heart and passion about changing the government for the better.”