Environmentalists spend for Inslee

Coalition says Dem is a 'champion for our issues'

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SEATTLE -- Two political coalitions are responsible for most of the attack ads in the Washington gubernatorial race, but a third group is getting ready.

A coalition of environmental groups is preparing a $750,000 advertising campaign to boost Democrat Jay Inslee against Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.

The Washington Conservation Voters will join the two major independent spenders in the race -- the Republican Governors Association Washington PAC and OUR Washington, a coalition of unions and Democratic groups.

RGAW, supported entirely by the national Republican Governors Association, has raised about $6 million. OUR Washington has raised about $5.8 million.

Both groups have run two TV ads each attacking their party's rival, leaving the campaigns to mostly run positive ads.

The Washington Conservation Voters effort, which will not include TV advertising, is the environmental community's largest-ever commitment to a state political race, said Brendon Cechovic, the group's executive director, who predicted the campaign "is going to surprise Rob McKenna in a big way."

An association of Realtors has run radio ads supporting McKenna, but other previously active groups appear to be teaming up with the major coalitions or sitting this campaign out. The well-funded national super-PACs have also stayed away from Washington so far.

"We're kind of waiting for another shoe to drop," said Christian Sinderman, a consultant working with the Inslee campaign. "I'm sure there will be more interest as the election gets closer."

Independent expenditures -- spending to support a candidate but not coordinated with the campaign -- are having an impact in races across the nation. The outside-spending groups are attractive to political activists because unlike the candidates' campaigns, they can accept and spend unlimited donations.

In Washington, voters are used to seeing ads sponsored by unions, business groups and professional associations, as well as national political organizations.

The current pooling of sources was called a smart move by Chris Vance, a former chairman of the state Republican Party. "That way nobody blames you for the message," Vance said. "If OUR Washington does an ad that everybody hates, nobody knows who to blame. As opposed to, if the Washington Education Association does an ad that people hate, everybody knows who to blame."

The environmentalists are bucking that trend.

Washington Conservation Voters has raised more than $700,000, including $250,000 from the national League of Conservation Voters, according to campaign-finance disclosure reports. In 2008, the state group raised about $337,000.

"The environmental community has never been so excited about a candidate in the state of Washington," said Cechovic. "Jay Inslee has been a tremendous champion for our issues. It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity."

The group is planning a pro-Inslee direct mail and Internet-advertising campaign targeted at undecided voters interested in environmental issues, Cechovic said. While there won't be TV or radio ads, the group has created a website.

The WA Realtors PAC also has raised some $685,000 -- about one-third of what it raised four years ago when it supported Republican Dino Rossi for governor.

Ron Dotzauer, a Democratic consultant, said national spending in the last few weeks will be dictated by polling conducted by the groups. "If the tracking polling shows that the race is competitive, they'll pull money out of other states," he said. "If this race stays competitive, there will be a scramble in the last two weeks to spend money. Lots and lots and lots of money."