AP political writer David Ammons, the dean of our state Capitol press corps, focuses most of this week’s column on the tight race in WA’s 8th congressional district.
Washington already has a heavily Democratic congressional delegation, but hungry national Democrats are hoping to pick up at least one more House seat here.
They’re taking on The Sheriff, freshman Rep. Dave Reichert, in the increasingly independent 8th District east of Seattle. As President Bush’s poll ratings fall, Democrats say Reichert could be the most visible victim in Washington this year.
From the opening paragraphs a clear theme emerges… that changing demographics and crumbling national support for President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have conspired to put Reichert’s hold on office at risk.
And no doubt, these two factors are huge.
But I think many analysts and pundits have largely overlooked two additional, important factors: challenger Darcy Burner’s surprising strength as both a fundraiser and a campaigner… and incumbent Reichert’s surprising weakness in those very same areas.
The most obvious evidence that Burner is running an exceptional campaign is the very fact that she’s now garnering so much attention. That wasn’t the case a few months back, when only a handful of local bloggers were touting the race as a nail-biter. And yet, the two contributing factors that everybody cites most — WA-08’s changing demographics and the anti-Republican political climate — have both been in play since well before Burner announced her candidacy.
What’s changed in the district to suddenly throw the race into the “toss-up” category? The Burner campaign, that’s what.
When people like me started talking up Burner on the blogs, it wasn’t just wishful thinking. We repeatedly met with the candidate, we argued policy and strategy… and we grilled her mercilessly when she showed up at a NW progressive bloggers’ forum in Olympia this past January.
I personally have known Burner for nearly a year, yet I didn’t start actively promoting her campaign until February, after I became absolutely convinced that she was not only a candidate who could win, but who would well serve the interests of the 8th district and the citizens of WA state. During that time I’ve watched her grow from just another passionate Camp Wellstone classmate, into a compelling campaigner and a formidable fundraiser. And the more I learned about her personal story, the more I became convinced that she was the perfect candidate to represent the demographically diverse 8th district.
“I’m very confident. Not nervous at all,” [Reichert] says. After a pause, he laughs and adds a postscript, “Maybe I should be.”
Well, he should be nervous, because he and his handlers have underestimated his opponent from day one, and that’s the worst mistake a politician can make in a swing district like WA-08, regardless of the political climate.
On the flip side, I’ve become convinced that most observers have overestimated Reichert, the “Hollywood-handsome sheriff” who claims to have tracked down the Green River Killer. His infamous temper, his inability to think on his feet, his stunningly poor public speaking skills when forced to talk off the cuff… all of this detracts from the notable advantages of incumbency.
But even more damning is his stance on the issues and his first-term voting record, both of which are out of touch with the majority of 8th district voters despite Reichert’s relentless efforts to recast himself as a moderate. Reichert is an extremist on reproductive rights, stem cell research and other social issues, while his legislative record on votes that count marks him as a near-rubberstamp for the disgraced Tom DeLay.
As voters learn more about Reichert, they will learn that he is part of the problem in Washington D.C., not part of solving it.
So yes, the race for WA-08 could never be so tight if not for the current political climate and the changing demographics. But the fact that it is so tight six months out from the November election is directly due to Burner’s strengths, and Reichert’s weaknesses.
Just wanted to give credit where credit is due.