Candidates gird for tough fight in House race
August 3, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Less than 100 days before Issaquah and Eastside voters elect a representative to Congress, another high-profile campaign has taken shape as Democrats gun to unseat incumbent Dave Reichert.
Like the 2006 and 2008 contests, the race for the 8th Congressional District — the only Western Washington district represented by a Republican — has attracted outside money and outsized attention. In the latest match-up, Reichert faces Democrat Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft executive and Medina resident.
But the leading candidates and political observers said the race differs from earlier matches.
“The message du jour this year is, ‘I’ll cross the aisle to get things done,’” Seattle political consultant Cathy Allen said.
Reichert and DelBene emphasize independence and plans to create jobs as they crisscross the sprawling district to drum up support. Both campaigns said the economy ranks as the top issue in the race.
“We need someone who has the business and entrepreneurial experience to get this economy moving,” DelBene said.
Republicans seem positioned to make gains in November, as dissatisfaction has mounted against President Obama and congressional Democrats. But the 8th District carries a blue hue, at least in presidential elections, so Reichert must perform a tightrope act.
“Dave is not a straight party-line voter,” Reichert campaign spokesman Darren Littell said. “He’s an independent-minded guy who votes what he feels is right, and listens to his constituents.”
Reichert, 59, served as King County sheriff before he emerged from a crowded 2004 primary as the GOP nominee for the House seat. The former lawman and Auburn resident bested Microsoft manager Darcy Burner in ’06 and ’08.
DelBene, 48, entered the race in February 2009, not long after the dust settled in the last Burner-Reichert contest.
“It certainly looks like there’s never been a better-funded, earlier-starting campaign than this one,” Allen said.
DelBene has attracted support and, more importantly, money from EMILY’s List, a prominent political action committee formed to elect women.
But unease about healthcare and financial services reform — plus concerns related to government spending since Obama took office — could spell trouble for Democrats.
Brett Bader, a Republican political consultant based in Woodinville, predicted a strong showing for the GOP.
“I think it’s going to be a good year for the party out of power — and that happens to be us — because people are so unhappy,” he said.
History leans Republican
Issaquah and other 8th District voters will pick the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, Aug. 17 in the all-mail primary election.
State election rules permit candidates to list a party preference even if the party has endorsed someone else. Candidates can also choose no party preference or dream up a party identifier.
Besides the frontrunners endorsed by the major parties, the field includes little-known Democrats and a far-right challenger, Issaquah Republican Ernest Huber.
Observers expect DelBene and Reichert to face off in the Nov. 2 general election.
Both the Cook Political Report and Congressional Quarterly — respected, nonpartisan sources based in the other Washington — said the 8th District tilts Republican.
But some local analysts favor DelBene and said the seat remains in play.
“This is an independent district, a Democratic-leaning district,” DelBene said.
In the race for a fourth term, Reichert has history on his side. No Democrat has ever represented the district. The current congressman fills a seat held by Jennifer Dunn — mother of King County Councilman Reagan Dunn — for a dozen years. Former state legislator Rod Chandler represented the district before the elder Dunn.
The district has defied trends in tough years for Republicans elsewhere.
In 2006, as Democrats surged to retake the House and Senate from the GOP after a dozen years, Reichert outlasted Burner. District residents picked Democrat Barack Obama and Reichert by comfortable margins in 2008.
Democrats fielded strong opponents against Reichert in every election. The then-sheriff dispatched radio host Dave Ross in 2004, Burner in 2006 and again in a 2008 rematch.
Burner came closest to unseating Reichert in the 2006 face-off. But the congressman pulled ahead by about 7,000 votes — out of about 251,000 ballots cast — to clinch re-election. In 2008, more than 20,000 votes separated the candidates.
“You never want to take anything for granted, and I don’t think Congressman Reichert has,” state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser said.
Bader said Reichert should continue to expect the same sort of challenge as long as he serves in Congress.
“There’s a lot of wealthy, liberal Democrats who will always want to be the first to take that district,” Bader said.
The national political parties plan to pour money into the race. National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee leaders listed Reichert as part of the Patriot Program — a fundraising push for at-risk incumbents. The special attention included a July 8 fundraiser by House Minority Leader John Boehner in Bellevue.
“In a tumultuous year like 2010 is going to be, a lot more districts are going to be in play” — but Democrats must play defense, Bader said.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted Reichert in the Red to Blue effort to provide extra support to challengers in GOP-held districts.
“Reichert is a reliable member of the ‘party of no’ unless he hears the footsteps of Suzan DelBene behind him,” state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said.
But the electoral landscape could change if poll numbers start to inch upward for Democrats
“What might indeed make the difference is the national numbers as we get closer to November,” Allen said.
DelBene hopes to appeal to people frustrated by gridlock and partisan sniping in Washington, D.C. The challenger has also hit Reichert on a record she said does not reflect the district.
“They haven’t seen leadership from the congressman,” she said.
Ron Dotzauer, a colorful, cowboy-hat-wearing political consultant based in Seattle — and a campaign manager for former Gov. Booth Gardner and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell — said the chance for Democrats to unseat Reichert has passed.
“If the Democrats were going to take Reichert out, they had to do it two years ago or in ’06,” he said.
Bader said the DelBene-Reichert contest might not even be a marquee race in a tumultuous year.
“I think, frankly, there’s going to be more action in other districts this year,” he said.
Observers said most 8th District residents had not yet tuned in to the race, despite the approaching summer primary. Allen said she expects voters to encounter a contest unlike the last election.
“I wouldn’t be counting Suzan out,” she said. “I would say there’s a stronger contender than we saw two, four or even six years ago.”
The rest of the pack
-Redmond Democrat Tom Cramer, a political activist, has held a host of jobs, including educator, rehabilitation director and small business owner.
-Bellevue Democrat Boleslaw “John” Orlinski moved to the United States from Poland. He has worked as a financial planner and social worker.
-Auburn Democrat Keith Arnold works as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration accounting technician.
-Issaquah Republican Ernest Huber, a retired naval officer, has challenged Reichert from the right.
-Republican Tim Dillon, a former Microsoft manager, serves as a Yarrow Point councilman.
-Unaffiliated candidate Caleb Love Mardini resides in Bellevue and works as a business and marketing consultant.
-Independent candidate Robin Adair, a self-described “theoretician,” has opened a campaign office in Bellevue.
On the Web
Learn more about the 8th Congressional District candidates online.
-Boleslaw “John” Orlinski
-Caleb Love Mardini
About the 8th Congressional District
Created after the 1980 Census, the district sprawls across eastern King and Pierce counties from the Snohomish County line up north to the Lewis County line in the south. The district bumps against Kittitas and Yakima counties to the east. Most district voters reside in Issaquah, Bellevue, Renton, and other Eastside and South King County cities. The district has a more rural character in Pierce County, and includes Mount Rainier National Park.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Sammamish Review Editor Ari Cetron and SnoValley Star Editor Dan Catchpole contributed to this report. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.