Change in geography alters landscape for congressional race
October 23, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
The showdown in the 8th Congressional District is far different from the most recent contests for the seat.
Incumbent Republican Dave Reichert held on amid spirited challenges from Democrats in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Redistricting last year reshaped the landscape for the district, and the 2012 race is not attracting the same kind of attention — or money — as the earlier battles.
Reichert’s opponent is Issaquah Democrat Karen Porterfield, a nonprofit professional and adjunct instructor at Seattle University.
Porterfield grew up in Seattle, in a family active in Democratic politics, and settled in Issaquah more than a decade ago. She said the expertise she gained in affordable housing development and in leadership roles at nonprofit organizations means she could offer a unique perspective in Congress.
“We don’t have somebody back there in either party who understands complex organizations and who is saying, ‘Well, wait a minute. Before we talk about, do we cut this 3 percent or 5 percent, have we talked about what priorities are, what do we want to be investing in? Maybe we don’t have this agency over here at all, or this program. Maybe we want to put a lot more money over here,’” Porterfield said in a recent interview. “That’s the difference between efficient government and effective government. Effective government is achieving the goals that we want to achieve. Efficient government just says we’re doing it well.”
Reichert said the focus in the next Congress is on job growth and federal spending — a task handled by the budget-writing House Ways & Means Committee.
“As a member of the Ways & Means Committee, I look forward to continuing my active role in writing and enacting legislation that strengthens our economy,” he said in a statement. “We’ve got some tough issues to tackle, but by focusing on our key principles of less government spending, low tax rates and creating a healthy economic climate, we’ll be able to restore confidence in our economy and get America back to work.”
The candidates to represent Issaquah and the 8th Congressional District amassed a list of endorsements in the race for a U.S. House of Representatives seat.
Reichert rose through the ranks at the King County Sheriff’s Office and served as sheriff from 1997 to 2004. Voters elected the Auburn Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004, a strong year for Republican candidates.
Reichert survived robust challenges from Democrat Darcy Burner, a former Microsoft project manager, as Democrats toppled Republicans elsewhere in 2006 and 2008. In the 2010 election cycle, Reichert outpaced former Microsoft and tech executive Suzan DelBene to retain the seat.
(DelBene is again a candidate for the U.S. House, this time in the redrawn 1st Congressional District.)
The former 8th District stretched across East King County and dipped into Pierce County to include rural communities and Mount Rainier National Park.
The redrawn district breaches the so-called Cascade Curtain — a mountainous dividing line between liberal Western Washington and conservative Eastern Washington — to stretch from Auburn to Wenatchee.
Candidates compete on different playing field
On the campaign trail, Porterfield is highlighting the similarities between communities on both sides of the mountains.
“Each community is unique, and we choose to live there because of the things that make it special,” she said. “Government has a specific role, and it’s different than business and it’s different than community, which is nonprofits, the neighborhoods we live in, our religious institutions, schools — they have a role. When communities are healthy and vibrant, everybody is playing their role well.”
Reichert said the change in geography did not alter how the district is represented in Washington, D.C.
“While representing both sides of the Cascades will present new opportunities and challenges, I will continue to approach my work in Congress just as I approached my career in law enforcement — to gather the facts and do what’s best for our communities and our country,” he said. “I represent all of the people in the current 8th District, no matter if they live in Bellevue, Black Diamond, Orting or Duvall. The same will hold true if elected to represent the new 8th District. Everyone will be represented equally from Stehekin to Eatonville.”
The old district gained a reputation as a swing district because voters split preferences between Democrats and Republicans in statewide and federal contests.
Officials created the seat after Washington gained a seat in Congress following the 1980 Census.
In 2010, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, lost the district — but prevailed in the race — by about 4,700 votes to Republican challenger Dino Rossi, although Murray garnered more votes in population-dense King County.
Democrat Barack Obama beat Republican John McCain in the district by more than 55,000 votes in 2008. But, farther down the same ballot, Rossi collected more than 5,000 votes more than Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat.
Still, no Democrat has ever represented the 32-year-old district in Congress. Reichert fills a seat held by Jennifer Dunn — mother of King County Councilman Reagan Dunn — for a dozen years.
Porterfield points to encouraging results in a poll the campaign commissioned in January. The results from Las Vegas-based McGuire Research Services showed a more independent streak among the 8th District electorate, she said.
Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University, said the Washington State Redistricting Commission created a safe seat for Reichert last year.
The district is “more solidly Republican” after redistricting, Donovan said. The analysis bears out “in looking at the numbers, looking at the maps and looking at the money that’s not coming in for the Democrat,” he added.
Reichert had raised about $1.5 million for the current election cycle; Porterfield had raised about $117,000 by Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
“When they divided up the state, the 1st District was where they had to make all the compromises, because there was no incumbent,” Donovan said. “A lot of those compromises were, let’s take the existing Democratic and Republican districts and probably make them a little safer.”