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Originally published Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 5:35 PM

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Local super PAC campaigns for Romney

A Redmond-based businessman has started a super PAC to promote the candidacy of Republican Mitt Romney, a tough uphill climb in Washington state. The new group is called Pivot Point Washington.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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When David Shemwell realized Mitt Romney wouldn't be putting much time or money into winning Washington state, he decided to do something about it. He started a super PAC.

The group, called Pivot Point Washington, has one goal: to promote Romney in a state President Obama won easily in 2008 and in which he is a heavy favorite to win again this year.

Shemwell, 59, who co-owns a Redmond technology firm called Laser Guidance, said he made the decision to start Pivot Point after realizing both Romney and Obama would focus their efforts in a handful of swing states — such as Ohio, Virginia and Colorado — instead of Washington..

"They see us as a 17-point state," he said, referring to Obama's margin of victory here in 2008. "The idea behind Pivot Point was to challenge that notion a little bit."

Shemwell knows he's facing a steep uphill battle.

Washington state has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. A poll conducted by Elway Research in June found that 49 percent of registered voters in the state favored Obama, while 41 percent favored Romney. And Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight polling blog for The New York Times, gives Obama a 97 percent chance of victory.

But Shemwell is betting that his super PAC — a type of political-action committee more commonly associated with billionaire donors such as Sheldon Adelson and Harold Simmons than low-budget local campaigns — can put a dent in Obama's numbers here.

"People think of super PACs like Crossroads and Priorities," Shemwell said, referring to American Crossroads, a super PAC that has raised more than $47 million this election cycle to help Republican candidates, and Priorities USA Action, which has raised $25.5 million in support of Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

(Super PACs, which sprung up in the wake of two federal-court rulings in 2010, can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in support of a candidate, as long as they do not coordinate in any way with the candidate's campaign. They are different from traditional PACs, which can give directly to candidates but cannot accept more than $5,000 per donor.)

But starting a super PAC also happens to be a relatively easy way to organize on behalf of a candidate without running afoul of campaign-finance rules, Shemwell said, whether or not you plan to raise Crossroads-levels of cash.

Shemwell would not say exactly how much Pivot Point had raised to date, but he said it was in "the tens of thousands" of dollars. (Pivot Point, like other super PACs, must report how much it raises, but it had raised only $600 by the most recent filing deadline, in June.)

Pivot Point is not the only miniature super PAC to pop up this election cycle.

A couple of dozen super PACs have been formed to support — or trash — candidates running for the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics and an expert on campaign finance.

Those super PACs range from Strong Utah, which raised $8,000 to support Sen. Orrin Hatch's re-election bid, to Progress for Washington, the now-infamous super PAC started by Laura Ruderman's mother that spent over $200,000 attacking Suzan DelBene, Ruderman's rival in Washington's 1st Congressional District's primary. DelBene won.

Pivot Point, however, seems to be the only super PAC supporting President Obama or Mitt Romney at the state level; other presidential super PACs are national.

"I can't think of another one that's been formed at the state level in the presidential race, although it's not really surprising, and I expect we'll see more of this as the race goes on," said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is an expert on campaign finance.

"In this new era of super PACs," Corrado added, "you're no longer dependent on party decisions on spending." Groups like Pivot Point can spend money wherever they see fit.

While Pivot Point cannot afford to blanket Washington state with staff and advertisements the way the Obama and Romney campaigns have in swing states, Shemwell's team has been trying. They have signed up about 90 volunteers; a kickoff rally in July drew hundreds of people, including Michael Medved, the conservative talk-radio host.

Pivot Point has spent most of its cash to date printing 3,000 red-and-cobalt "Mitt Romney" yard signs. Volunteers have handed out about 2,600. They've also put up 100 larger signs, Shemwell said, "all the way from Whidbey Island to Spokane."

After the Republican convention in Tampa this week, Pivot Point will kick into higher gear, with phone-banking and possible radio commercials. "We hope to raise around a million dollars," Shemwell said. "That will enable us to do the traditional advertising."

Shemwell, who lives in Newcastle, is not an ideologue.

A former Democrat, he voted for Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan in 1980. His career has brought him into close contact with federal government workers in Washington, D.C., whom he calls "good guys, hardworking guys." He is by no means anti-government.

Other Pivot Point volunteers seem to feel much the same way. Hossein Khorram, a volunteer who lives in Clyde Hill and works as a property developer, even called Obama "a noble man."

But Shemwell is concerned about the nation's burgeoning deficits and debt, as well as the still-sputtering economy. And he thinks voters can be convinced that Romney is the man to fix it — even in a state as Democratic-leaning as Washington.

"Does it require the stars align?" he said. "Oh, yeah. But I think the stars are aligning."

Theodoric Meyer: 206-464-2985 or tmeyer@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @theodoricmeyer.

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