Politics & Government

State Republican chairwoman Hutchison goes knocking on doors for ‘Democrat’ Tim Sheldon

Republican groups say they support Democrat state Sen. Tim Sheldon all the way this year. On Saturday, state Republican chairwoman Susan Hutchison was out knocking on doors, handing out literature and talking to likely GOP voters in heavily Democratic Olympia on the eve of Tuesday’s all-mail election.

Hutchison expects her party to hold the Senate and win seats in the Democratic House, and she said her on-the-ground work is not a sign of alarm but something she’s been doing every weekend in different key districts over the past month. She also made stops in Gig Harbor and Port Orchard in the 26th district earlier in the day.

But she told a small crew of GOP door-belling volunteers and candidates that crunch time has arrived and that Sheldon is key for Republicans who want to retain control of the the Senate to stop Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s “extreme agenda,” as she put it.

“Everything is happening today, tomorrow and Monday,” Hutchison said before going out to a quiet neighborhood near Boulevard Road and Yelm Highway. “Wednesday, we don’t want to look back and say, ‘why didn’t we do this?’ ”

She also claimed Inslee and Democrats would impose an income tax and jack up fuel prices by $1 by adopting policies to deal with climate change.

Sheldon welcomed the help and, although he’s dogged by Bowling’s mailers that make clear she is the “real Democrat,” his eye was on nailing down GOP voters and independents that he now needs to win. So he handed out literature for Republican Rep. Drew MacEwen of Union and Republican candidate Dan Griffey of Allyn who is trying for the third time in five years to oust moderate Democratic Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton.

“He’s trying to play both sides like he has for years,” Bowling said of Sheldon, speaking later by telephone from Bremerton. “The interest groups, the Republicans, don’t want to lose Sheldon as their yes man. They are worried about it. That’s why they are dumping thousands and thousands of dollars into the campaign for him.”

Bowling said she’s door-belled at 10,000 homes and had just spent the day talking to voters around the Lake Limerick area of Mason County. “People are just disgusted with him. They are not happy – that he’s a double dipper, he doesn’t do anything for them,” she said, adding that she wants to take action on funding public schools and finding money to fix state highways.

How well a GOP strategy works for Sheldon, who usually wins by huge margins with support from independent voters, remains to be seen. More than $1.7 million has been spent in the race, compared to $592,526 spent in 2006 and $132,000 in 2010, which suggests all sides think the race is closer than history would predict.

Dozens of mailers have gone out from both sides in the race, and Bowling’s latest shows a stuffed mailbox and a complaint about Sheldon’s “garbage” in the mail. The GOP’s independent expenditure allies have falsely claimed Bowling is a threat to impose an income tax, which is opposite to statements she’s made, and another erroneous claim is that she favors policies to impose a dollar increase in fuel prices.

Sheldon says he’s being attacked wrongly for holding two public offices including county commissioner and that he’s not wealthy, as foes try to paint him, and any commerce his family business has done with the state has been on a small scale.

Hutchison said her party began launching its mailers for Sheldon once all three county parties acted to endorse Sheldon as their own nominee against Bowling. Sheldon said he also secured the endorsement of his Republican primary opponent Travis Couture.

Mason County GOP chairman Jerry Cummings said the local party voted to treat Sheldon as its nominee once he eked out a second-place finish in the Aug. 5 primary, avoiding elimination by just 600 votes.

Republicans are key for Sheldon, because he is despised by many Democrats for aligning with the GOP to form the Majority Coalition Caucus in 2013, which seized control of the Senate and then failed to act on a transportation plan or to raise significant new state revenues for public schools. He has voted reliably with the GOP coalition but despite his avowed support for a woman’s right to an abortion, he has struggled to explain where he has backed Senate Democrats’ positions or bucked the majority coalition’s plans on which bills to bring to the floor.

Bowling ran strongest in Thurston County, and Republicans always face uphill fights in the liberal county. Their 35th district team was using mapping software to identify homes where known GOP voters lived and had not voted by Saturday, according to Cummings. The 35th district’s boundaries stretch from Bremerton to Shelton and along the west side of Thurston County; redistricting three years ago added a string of neighborhoods on Olympia’s south side that may lean more Democratic.

Griffey is the one candidate of the three that county Republican chairs Zeke Lyen of Thurston County and Cummings were most worried about. Griffey is running on a rural jobs and property rights platform.