Politics & Government

Ventrella promises full-fledged campaign after surprise primary win

Congressional candidate Tony Ventrella, left, poses for a photo with a life-size photo of John F. Kennedy as his own life-size image is displayed at right, in June at the Washington state Democratic Convention in Tacoma. Ventrella, a Democrat, is running for Congress in the 8th Congressional District against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert.
Congressional candidate Tony Ventrella, left, poses for a photo with a life-size photo of John F. Kennedy as his own life-size image is displayed at right, in June at the Washington state Democratic Convention in Tacoma. Ventrella, a Democrat, is running for Congress in the 8th Congressional District against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert. The Associated Press

Democratic congressional candidate Tony Ventrella was watching the movie “Thirteen Days” the night he beat four other candidates for second place in Washington’s top-two primary election last week.

The former Seattle-area sportscaster, having dropped out of the U.S. House race in the state’s 8th Congressional District in July, assumed he lost and wasn’t paying attention to the ballot results.

That is, until he got a call from another Democratic candidate in the race, Santiago Ramos, congratulating Ventrella on advancing to November’s general election with Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert.

The day after his second-place finish, Ventrella asked people to donate to charity rather than his campaign, which he said would be bare bones. A week later, Ventrella’s tack has shifted again: He said Tuesday that he’s in it to win it, and will “raise what I need.”

It’s the latest twist in a campaign that began with a cry to reduce the influence of money in politics.

Ventrella, 72, pledged not to take money from political action committees or special interest groups during his primary effort. He instead made requests for small individual donations on his website and Twitter.

That didn’t get him enough cash to make his campaign viable. But he decided to leave the race too late, and his name still appeared on the primary ballot. Despite urging voters to back Ramos and Democrat Alida Skold, he beat them anyway.

“I thought — ‘holy cow, now what do we do?’ ” Ventrella said in a phone interview Tuesday.

I thought — ‘holy cow, now what do we do?’

Tony Ventrella, Democratic candidate for U.S. House in Washington

Now Ventrella says he needs to raise a reasonable amount of money to employ staff, buy yard signs and pay for other basic needs of a campaign, even if he avoids costly things such as television advertisements. He’s just not sure exactly how he’ll go about it yet.

Ventrella is trying to hold off on collecting money from special interest groups and PACs as long as possible. First, the campaign will focus more on soliciting small donations.

“As far as the money thing: I’m still thinking about how to get around that one,” he said.

Besides rallying for campaign finance reform, Ventrella said reducing the cost of post-high school education and improving availability of health care would be his highest priorities in Congress. He criticized Reichert for opposing the national health care law called the Affordable Care Act.

Reichert’s campaign has the upper hand as of now with nearly $1 million in the bank, according to a mid-July filing with the Federal Election Commission. He also won the primary by a huge margin.

Ventrella has zero dollars and no campaign staff.

Reichert was first elected to the U.S. House in 2004 and served as King County Sheriff before that.

Jeff Harvey, Reichert’s political strategist, said in an email that Reichert “remains focused on the important issues facing our region like jobs, tax reform, education, trade, and protecting our senior citizens and children.”

“He will not be distracted by a guy who can’t even decide whether or not he wants the job.”

(Reichert) will not be distracted by a guy who can’t even decide whether or not he wants the job

Jeff Harvey, U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert’s political strategist

Ventrella, who lives in Newcastle, said he’s beginning to get his campaign up to speed this week, and looking to hire staff.

“I’m absolutely starting over,” Ventrella said in the phone interview, later adding: “... I’m a one-man show.”

The 8th Congressional District encompasses Chelan and Kittitas counties and parts of King, Pierce and Douglas counties.

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