Republicans spotlight Irons-Sims race

The King County Republican Party is poised to give its nominee for county executive, David Irons, a boost with a get-out-the-vote campaign in the $300,000 range.

Eastside developers Kemper Freeman Jr. and Skip Rowley top the list of donors who made large party contributions in September.

Party officials say the money — which legally can't be used to help only one candidate — will promote Republicans running for the County Council and Irons, who is facing Democrat Ron Sims in the marquee race in the Nov. 8 election.

The county Democratic Party doesn't plan a similar get-out-the-vote effort, Chairwoman Susan Sheary said.

Irons' campaign, meanwhile, has revved up its own fund-raising efforts, taking in $64,000 during the past two weekly reporting periods. Sims raised $35,000, though he still enjoys a large dollar advantage.

"I promised at the beginning we would be competitive. No one believed us," said county Republican Party Chairman Michael Young. "We are going to be competitive because we have a message that resonates with the voters of King County."

The county Republican Party has reported $269,000 in contributions this year to its get-out-the-vote fund, which can be used to pay for direct mail and phone banks. Young said the party has taken in closer to $340,000.

Some of that money already has been spent on "party-building activities," Young said.

Sims campaign spokesman Christian Sinderman, citing the prominence of developers in funding Republicans' get-out-the-vote campaign, said, "There are very powerful special interests that would like to install David Irons so they could push a development agenda that would be damaging to our quality of life."

Rowley and his Issaquah-based Rowley Properties have given the Republican Party $50,000 this year, most of it last month. Bellevue Square Managers, controlled by Freeman, has given $35,000.

Rowley and Freeman are longtime contributors to Republican causes. "David Irons has a good chance of beating Ron Sims, so people need to go to the polls," Rowley said.

Freeman attributed Republicans' fund-raising success to efforts by former Chairwoman Pat Herbold and her successor, Young, to rebuild what had been a poorly organized party that was in debt when Herbold took over several years ago.

"I think a lot of people have become aware that this is a horse race," Freeman said.

Sims, a two-term incumbent, has raised $555,000, to Irons' $366,801. The campaigns haven't reported their expenditures or cash balances since Sept. 13.

The Republican Party money gives Irons a needed boost in an election that his backers see as the Republicans' best chance to win back the top administrative post for the first time in more than a decade.

Republicans were heartened by KING-TV's report last week on a SurveyUSA poll showing the race too close to call, but with Sims leading Irons by 5 percentage points.

Rumors have been flying within both parties about the possibility of interest groups funding independent expenditures on behalf of the other party's candidate.

One independent expenditure has already been made. The Sierra Club last week mailed a flier praising Sims' environmental record and criticizing Irons'. The Sierra Club also set up a political committee last week whose co-chairman, Mike O'Brien, said he hopes will raise $40,000 to $50,000 to help Sims and other local candidates.

While Sims supporters think it's unlikely Irons will defeat Sims in Democratic-leaning King County, they are concerned that out-of-state Republican funding sources may see more at stake.

Activists in both parties say a GOP victory, or even a close showing by Irons, would encourage conservatives from other parts of the country to spend money to defeat Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell next year. Former Safeco CEO Mike McGavick and Eastside Republican activist Diane Tebelius are considering running for Cantwell's seat.

Another worrisome factor for Sims is the Green Party candidate for county executive, Gentry Lange. Irons could benefit if Lange, like the Green Party's 2000 presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, attracts Democratic voters in a close race.

Meanwhile, the Sims camp is redoubling its fund raising to counter the Republican Party's effort. "Obviously David Irons and his Republican backers are making a final push, and we're taking it very seriously," Sinderman said.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or