Consultant Christian Sinderman (l) with State Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz
The Seattle Times's Pacific Northwest Magazine recently ran a lengthy feature story touting Christian Sinderman as "the hottest political consultant in the state." It's true that Sinderman, who only works for Democrats, has helped everyone from Sen. Maria Cantwell to Governor Chris Gregoire to Seattle City Council Member Tim Burgess to King County Executive Dow Constantine get elected. And he's played a major role building Washington's Democratic majority over the last decade (he was House Speaker Frank Chopp's consultant for a while). But how potent will he be this year—a year that many believe gives the advantage to Republicans?
Sinderman's 2010 client list is full, with Sinderman consulting on more than 20 races across the state (and one in Oregon). The Times thinks Sinderman has the magic touch, but we took a look at all the races he's working on this year, and his ability to pull rabbits out of hats is going to be tested in a number of races. For example, three tricks Sinderman is tasked with in 2010: protecting vulnerable Eastside King County Democrats from a Republican takeover; ushering a 23-year-old into the state House; and saving the day for an underdog, liberal U.S. Congressional candidate in the-leans-conservative 3rd Congressional District in Southwest Washington.
Sinderman is consulting for some shoo-in candidates like State Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill) and State Rep. Deb Eddy (D-48, Kirkland), two key members of the Democratic establishment, but here's a list of Sinderman's toughest races. And Sinderman's chances of winning—according to PubliCola.
[Editor's Note: We've been playing phone tag with Sinderman for a week. The question we've got for him isn't so much about the races we handicap below, but more generally, what is his political-genius-take on how Democrats need to frame the election in 2010.]
1. Client: Andy Billig, candidate for State House seat in the 3rd legislative district, Spokane
As a part-owner of the Spokane Indians Baseball Club, Billig's mixture of a progressive, education-centric platform and his supposed fiscally-smart background should appeal to Spokane-area voters. He’s running for Rep. Alex Wood’s open seat against a pack of Democrats: Spokane City councilman Robert Apple, Louise Chadez, a social worker, and David Smith, who is fresh out of high school and eager for defeat.
Chances: 1 in 2
2. Client: Joe Fitzgibbon, Democratic candidate for the House in the 34th (West Seattle)
If he pulls this off, it could well be Sinderman’s most impressive win. Fitzgibbon is only 23 years-old and in the middle of a crowded primary against two Democrats and an Independent where he's currently second-to-last in fundraising. However, Fitzgibbon's got his act together—he lined up Sinderman didn't he?—and was most recently the over-accomplished aide to the well-liked incumbent, Rep. Sharon Nelson, who's headed over to the state Senate.
Fitzgibbon is impressive on the stump, and he's trying to differentiate himself from Nelson with a focus on transportation needs in Burien (where he lives), but can he overcome the veneer of youth and inexperience and a not-so-impressive fundraising start?
Another roadblock for Sinderman's candidate: He’s running against two determined Democrats: Mike Heavey, who comes from a well-known political family in West Seattle—his father, a former state legislator, is a King County Superior Court Judge—and Marcee Stone, a labor lefty and campaign finance reform advocate, who's the only woman in the field.
An extra impediment, Heavey's working with Seattle consultant Jason Bennett, who is likely to be extra motivated for the win by the Times glowing piece on Sinderman.
Chances: 1 in 3
3. Client: Sen. Randy Gordon (D-41, Mercer Island), incumbent
Technically Randy Gordon is the incumbent, though he has never actually been elected in this district. Gordon was appointed late last year to replace Fred Jarrett when Jarrett was tapped to be Deputy King County Executive by King County Executive Down Constantine.
Gordon tends to remain quiet in the press and on the Senate floor, and his legislation is wonky stuff like the Appellate Congestion Reduction Act, which would have made municipal judges elected.
Another problem: While the 41st is generally seen as a Democratic district these days, voters there tend to be moderates. Gordon is known as very liberal. (He sponsored a couple of bills including a couple with super lefty Sen. Adam Kline, D- South Seattle, to take on big banks and insurance companies.)
Gordon's opponent Stephen Litzow, on the other hand, is a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican who wants education reform as a way to attract “quality” teachers to Washington—the kind of candidate that does well in a PTSA-focused, swing district like the 41st.
Some seasoned local political observers speak highly of Litzow's skills as a candidate and Litzow is already beating Gordon in fundraising $29,756.65 to $12,755.27.
Lord Sinderman, as the Times nearly characterized him, surely works in mysterious ways: Promoting a super-lib newcomer like Gordon is a different call then protecting a Roadkill Dem like State Sen. Chris Marr (see below).
Chances: 3 in 5
4. Client: Stew Henderson, Democratic candidate for the open State House seat in the 22nd legislative district (Olympia)
Henderson, who said his biggest priority if he makes it to Olympia would be facilitating a green energy economy in Washington, hopes to replace inconsolable (and talkative) lefty Rep. Brendan Williams, who is retiring in a huff because he's frustrated with what he sees as a sell out Democratic leadership in Olympia. (Sinderman worked for Williams too.)
Henderson has a lot of support from Lacey, Tumwater and Olympia city council members as well as Olympia’s Mayor Doug Mah. There are 7 candidates in the Democratic pack angling for Williams' slot, but Henderson's among the top two in fundraising at $28,519.91. His opponent Chris Reykdal has raised $26,448.09.
Reykdal, the former Tumwater City planning commissioner, is a pro-density, social-justice Democrat. He’s got a long list of union endorsements as well as support form the Lacey and Tumwater mayors.
Only one Republican is running in this race: Lake City councilman Jason Hearn. No Republican has held this seat in 25 years, and Hearn has raised $0 (zero dollars).
Sinderman will likely be dealing with some D on D action here, and both Henderson and Reykdal seem like they've got a good chance of crossing the finish line first.
Chances: 1 in 2
5. Client: Sen. Ken Jacobsen, incumbent (D-46, North Seattle)
Sinderman is defending iconoclastic Jacobsen against a liberal Democratic newcomer, David Frockt, who is trouncing Jacobsen in fundraising—and who has already outspent the incumbent $42,855.72 to $9,713.61.
And media savvy Frockt (he's fast on the press releases, most recently dinging Jacobsen on voting against Seattle on 520) has campaign fodder—calling out Jacobsen for being one of a few Democrats to vote against legislation to reform payday loans.
That said, Jacobsen—a well-known, longtime incumbent—has real accomplishments in environmental protection and education to flaunt. His reputation on the campaign trail as a tireless doorbeller (plus Sinderman) increase his odds.
Beating an incumbent Democrat in Seattle is never easy, but Frockt seems determined to make this a race. Adding some heat to the already heated intramural, Frockt's consultant, John Wyble, is another local Sinderman competitor who might be motivated by the Times' gushing account of Sinderman.
Chances: 3 in 5
6. Client: Al Jensen, Democratic candidate for the State House in the 42nd Legislative District (Bellingham)
Jensen is gunning for Rep. Doug Ericksen's (R-42, Bellingham) open seat. The bad news for Jensen (and Sinderman) is this: Ericksen, a class-clown conservative who's now running for Senate, is very popular. In other words, this is not a good district for a Democrat. Jensen's Republican opponent, Blaine City councilman Jason Overstreet, who is running on a classic platform of running government like a business, will likely be welcomed with open arms.
Chances: 1 in 4
7. Client: Sen. Chris Marr (D-6, Spokane), incumbent
Sinderman's client faces a tough re-election in the conservative Spokane-area district, especially after Democrats raised taxes this session. Marr’s caucus leadership came to his aid when they got his back and allowed to vote against the tax packages, the budgets and against repealing Eymans I-960 (the voter-approved requirment that the legislature needs a supermajority to raise taxes). And he is a moderate, business-oriented D, who tried to amend the voter-approved alternative energy initiative so that Spokane's Avista didn't have to meet the tough standards.
All that might not be enough, though, if his constituents remember that he was tagged as a lefty by winning environmentalist of the year in his first term from the Washington Conservation Voters.
His Republican opponent, Michael Baumgartner, is no slouch. He has a Master's degree from Harvard and worked at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad where he played a lead role in the Baghdad Security Plan as part of the "Iraq Surge." You can practically hear conservative Republican voters' drool hitting the floor now.
But the massive amount of campaign money Marr's raised so far—$180,595.78 to Baumgartner's $29,000—will certainly help his odds, as will the support he’s likely to receive from his party as it gears up to protect its bastion in the East.
One thing to watch here is whether Sinderman can keep labor unions on the Marr bandwagon, at a time when the unions are angry at Democrats' capitulations to business interests in Olympia and are threatening to abandon moderate Democrats like Marr this cycle.
Chances: 3 in 5
8. Client: State Sen. Craig Pridemore (D-49, Vancouver) for U.S. House (WA-03)
Liberal Pridemore is the underdog in the Dem primary race for U.S. House against Olympia power player (and former legislator and Booth Gardner aide) Denny Heck, whose moderate politics will appease the political mixed bag that is Southwest Washington. The conventional wisdom among politicos is that Pridemore has little hope against the well-funded and connected Heck in the primary. And some argue that Pridemore's liberal views—he has strong support among liberal netroots bloggers—would make him vulnerable against a hyper-conservative, but fresh-faced State House Rep. Jamie Herrera, who is considered likely to get the Republican nod. Pridemore's liberal pro-labor and environment track record includes outspoken opposition to state layoffs and sponsorship of a green bill to recycle light bulbs.
And word is he’s also having problems raising money—he has raised a mere $83,436 (Heck has $569,609— though about half of that is his own money). Pulling off a win here would seal Sinderman's rep as the all-powerful political guru of Washington State.
Did Sinderman bite off more than he can chew with Pridemore?
Chances: 1 in 8 (12 percent for the math impaired)
9. Client: Tom Pasma, Democratic State House candidate in the 40th (San Juan)
Pasma is one of three Democrats and two Republicans trying to fill retiring Democratic Rep. David Quall's open seat.
Pasma is last among the Democrats in fundraising right now—he's at $5,500 while the other two Ds are at $14,700 and $11,000. Pasma, a rancher and a former chairman of the 40th Legislative District Democrats, is ahead of both Republicans—combined—in this D turf.
Employing a campaign genius like Sinderman should give Pasma a boost in this intramural squabble. Although, given that Pasma hasn't spent a cent on Sinderman yet, we do know the cowboy hat was Pasma's idea.
Footnote: At first we were confused and—not realizing Quall was retiring—though Sinderman was taking on a Democratic incumbent. Nope, party-loyalist Sinderman would never go against Speaker Chopp.
Chances: 2 in 4
10. Client: Charlie Wiggins, running for State Supreme Court against incumbent, Richard Sanders
Unseating a doctrinaire Libertarian like Justice Richard Sanders would be a coup for the Democrats. While some Democrats like Sanders' 100 percent commitment to civil liberties, none can stand Sanders' 100 percent laissez-faire and property rights bent.
Wiggins has already raised slightly more money than Sanders—$41,000 to $39,000 (and expect liberal independent expenditure groups to go after Sanders.) However, while Sanders has only spent $220 of his take, Wiggins has spent $30,000—and nearly half of that on Sinderman.
That's some 'spense advice. Hard to know if it will be sage enough to help Wiggins take down a 15-year incumbent.
Chances: 1 in 4