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August 27, 2012 at 6:03 AM

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Politics: Money didn't win in Steve Bergquist's race

Money is not everything in politics. Consider the result in the Aug. 7 primary for 11th district state representative, position two (Renton and Tukwila). It's an open seat, and four Democrats and one Republican competed for one of the “top two” slots on the November ballot.

The big money raiser was Bobby Virk, Democrat, a dentist who immigrated from India. Virk raised almost $270,000, and that’s not counting the $23,300 he had to return to donors who had given more than the $900 limit. Virk lost. He raised more money than all the other candidates put together, but got only 14 percent of the votes.

Stephanie Bowman, Democrat and executive director of a non-profit group, raised $59,448 and had $79,500 spent on her behalf by education and business groups. She got The Seattle Times endorsement. She lost, too, with 22.4 percent of the vote.

Rob Holland, Democrat, who is one of the five Port of Seattle commissioners elected county-wide, raised a small amount of money and didn’t campaign much. He had the lowest vote total, 10.4 percent.

In the No. 2 position, 25 percent of the vote, was Sarah Sanoy-Wright, an immigrant from the Philippines who has a freeze-dried food business. She raised the least amount of money of any candidate, but was the only Republican, and will make the November ballot.

In the No. 1 spot was Steve Bergquist, Democrat, who raised $49,700, which was only 10 percent of the money spent on behalf of the five candidates. He got 28 percent of the vote, and is virtually assured of victory in November in this heavily Democratic district.

How did he win? First, he was born in Renton, and his family has been there for several generations. Even in an immigrant-heavy district, that helps. Also, he’s been a social studies teacher at Lindbergh High School for eight years. “That’s 1,500 students,” he says. That helps, too, as does shoe leather: Bergquist knocked on 12,000 doors.

He also has a good political profile: he’s a schoolteacher married to a medical doctor; he’s both a local business owner (Aces Tennis) and a union member (Renton Education Association).

He spent his political money well. Most of it went for three targeted mailings, signs and supplies. The only paid people, he says, are his political consultants, Dean Nielsen and Dia Armenta. The rest are volunteers.

Political consultant Steve Finley, who was not involved in the campaign, says it would have been difficult for Bergquist if he had raised no money. “You need to be able to raise enough money to execute a good campaign plan,” Finley says. But he says the candidate who spends his money smartly, has a good message and works hard does not always need the biggest pile of cash.

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