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Originally published Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Independent groups give Rossi money edge

Independent groups backing Republican Dino Rossi for governor poured more than $8 million into the race this month, giving his campaign its first significant money edge over Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

Fundraising in the governor's race

MONEY RAISED BY CHRISTINE GREGOIRE AND DINO ROSSI

2008

Gregoire: $10.8 million

Rossi: $9.7 million

2004

Gregoire: $6.36 million

Rossi: $6.25 million

2008 FUNDRAISING BY INDEPENDENT GROUPS*

Evergreen Progress: Backs Gregoire, $5.1 million

It's Time for a Change: Backs Rossi, $7.2 million

Washington State Republican Governors Association PAC:

Backs Rossi, $5.5 million

Source: State Public Disclosure Commission

OLYMPIA — Independent groups backing Republican Dino Rossi for governor reported raising more than $8 million this month, giving his campaign its first significant money edge over Gov. Christine Gregoire.

The millions from Rossi's backers, along with money raised by the two campaigns and Gregoire's supporters, have pushed the total contributions in the governor's race to more than $38 million.

Much of the money is being spent on a barrage of negative TV and radio ads from both sides attacking on the opposing candidate.

Altogether, Rossi's campaign and the two main groups backing him — the Republican Governors Association and It's Time for a Change, a PAC that gets most of its money from the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) — have raised more than $22 million.

That means Rossi and his backers have raised about $6 million more than Gregoire and her supporters, according to state records. It wasn't clear on Tuesday how much money either side still has left to spend.

"I don't think we're going to stay even," said Rick Desimone, the campaign manager for Evergreen Progress, a labor-backed group that's Gregoire's chief independent supporter. "They have been outspending us, and I think that is likely to continue."

Erin Shannon, a spokeswoman for the BIAW, said the groups backing Rossi are just "trying to level the playing field."

"I don't know if the money that Rossi supporters have at this point is significant enough that it's going to change election results," she said, adding that Rossi was doing well before the additional money came in.

The independent groups have played an unusually important role in this election.

Rossi's own campaign has consistently trailed Gregoire in fundraising. But the independent campaigns, which are not allowed to coordinate with the candidates, completely change the picture.

The Republican Governors Association has raised $5.5 million this election. It's Time for a Change has raised an additional $7.2 million. And Rossi has raised about $9.7 million.

In other words, the independent groups have raised more money than the candidate.

By comparison, state filings showed Evergreen Progress has raised about $5.1 million and Gregoire's campaign has brought in about $10.8 million.

The amount of money raised this year dwarfs the 2004 campaign, when Gregoire beat Rossi by 133 votes after two recounts and a court challenge. Back then, independent groups were not as big of a factor. And the two candidates combined raised about 60 percent of what they have today.

The flood of money backing Rossi is a good indication of just how close the race is, said Todd Donovan, a political-science professor at Western Washington University.

"The polls have consistently shown it's close. The primary showed it's close. So the money is going to come," he said.

Does it make a difference?

"Generally you don't need to raise more money than the other person, you just need enough," said Chris Vance, a former chairman of the state Republican Party. "On the other hand, in a close race everything makes a difference."

Vance notes that Gregoire and her supporters still have money to spend.

"Certainly the Gregoire campaign and anti-Rossi groups have enough money to get their message out. But for right now the pro-Rossi side is getting more of a message out," he said. "In a close race, it has to make a difference."

Desimone, of Evergreen Progress, contends it's not that clear-cut.

"Having more money is an advantage, but it's not the only advantage," he said. "What message you're able to deliver with that money also counts for something, and I'd rather have our message than their message right now."

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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