10th District losers decline to now support winners

Election: Although it’s something of a tradition, especially nationally, Heck and Muri aren’t worried about snubbing

Staff writerSeptember 11, 2012 

As Democrat Denny Heck and Republican Dick Muri move toward their showdown in November, it appears that neither finalist in the newly created 10th Congressional District is getting help from the four candidates they bested in the primary.

Republican Stan Flemming has declined to say anything on behalf of Muri, in sharp contrast to other races in which losers fairly quickly endorsed the winners in the name of unity. Flemming’s campaign is not saying why he won’t support Muri, with whom he serves on the Pierce County Council, but the two men feuded during the primary.

Three others who lost in the primary, including Democrat Jennifer Ferguson of University Place, are declining to back Heck, who led all candidates with nearly 40 percent of the vote. Ferguson had about 11 percent – enough to put Heck over the top if all her supporters were to back the well-heeled Olympia businessman.

Ferguson, a marriage counselor who had never run for public office, says she agrees with Heck on some issues but is more conservative on social issues and plans to run for the seat in 2014. Two others in the race – Progressive Independent Sue Gunn of Olympia and independent Steve Hannon of Yelm – also are withholding support, even though their positions are similar to Heck’s on taxes, health care and global warming.

Gunn has been pointed in saying that Heck, who is wealthy and has given his own campaign about $100,000, is “emblematic” of the excessively large role of money in politics. That’s exactly what her campaign had hoped to target, she said.

What the refusals of support mean to the overall race is open to interpretation. The situation is sharply different than in the 6th District that serves Tacoma and the Olympic Peninsula – where three of four rival Republicans have backed Republican Bill Driscoll against Democrat Derek Kilmer.

Whatever the cause, longtime Republican political consultant Chris Vance said he thinks the race is already over.

“The only candidate raising significant money in this race is Denny Heck,” he said Friday. “There is no doubt he’s going to win. For Dick Muri to beat him, he’d have to raise $1.5 million.”

Heck raised almost $1.4 million for the primary, spending more than $387,000 – easily more than his rivals could even raise.

“In a national context, it’s important to unify the party and show that the winner of the primary can draw everyone together,” added longtime Democratic campaign consultant Christian Sinderman. “Against underfunded niche candidates, it’s not as important. It’s nice, but it’s not as critical.”

And in this case, Vance said the 10th District was drawn by the state Redistricting Commission to favor Democrats – part of a swap that redrew two other swing districts into safe GOP districts and left the 1st District north of Seattle a toss-up.

The new 10th runs from Shelton to Olympia and north to Puyallup and University Place – creating a U-shaped district that has a major military base in the middle. Muri, a retired Air Force officer, has counted on his military background as an asset in the campaign.

Muri’s campaign consultant, Alex Hays, said they never counted on Flemming’s help and that what has happened is common in hotly contested campaigns. Muri’s campaign also said many Flemming supporters, including Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed, have come over to embrace their candidate.

On the other side, Heck’s campaign is declining to comment on the lack of support from Democrats and left-of-center candidates.

Heck’s campaign always looked past the primary rivals – putting out four costly mailings to voters before the primary that attacked ideas of the Republican-controlled U.S. House, which Heck says is being driven to tea party extremes that he would counter.

In the past week his campaign has put up a website feature that shows the cost to the district of a Paul Ryan budget, including costs for transportation projects along the Interstate 5 corridor. His campaign said the budget also would reduce school lunch funding that is important in parts of the district, and reduce transportation jobs.

Muri said months ago that he considered Ryan’s proposals, which include reshaping Medicare, “a good start” that “threw something on the table for the Senate to debate.”

Gunn, an environmentalist who had worked on federal issues in Washington, D.C., has talked of building a longer-term organization for political change after the election. In the short term, she plans to work on the Thurston initiative to turn the local electricity utility public, but she said she cannot support Heck.

“My campaign was a personal effort to change the political landscape and promote progressive policies,” Gunn wrote in an email reply to a reporter’s questions last week.

As for the Republican, Gunn said, “Mr. Muri’s party has really become a cartoon of regressive ideas and fear-mongering that feeds off of self-interest.”

Ferguson had provided one of the primary’s surprises. She clearly drew Democratic votes away from Heck in the primary, and she was able to grab those votes while spending, by her count, just over $6,000.

The two Democrats clearly are at opposite ends on social issues. Heck favors full legal recognition of same-sex marriages and abortion rights for women. Ferguson, who describes herself as Christian, said she believes same-sex couples deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples, but she opposes redefining marriage to include gays.

At the same time, Ferguson said she personally opposes abortion but believes that others – she mentioned victims of rape, whom she has counseled in her job – need to have the right to make that decision on their own.

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