Many express interest in filling Baird’s seat

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Republican group launches attack ad against Deb Wallace

State Rep. Deb Wallace threw herself into her nascent congressional campaign Thursday as the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee launched its first attack ad against her.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jaime Herrera, a Ridgefield Republican, said she’s “strongly considering” making the race. Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, said he’ll take a pass.

A day after U.S. Rep. Brian Baird announced that he won’t seek a seventh term in Congress next year, the political landscape in Southwest Washington continued to shift.

Other Democrats who are considering a run for Congress include state Sen. Craig Pridemore and state Reps. Jim Moeller of Vancouver and state Sen. Brian Hatfield of Raymond.

On the Republican side, David Castillo of Olympia, a former chief of staff for the Washington House Republican Caucus, and Washougal City Councilman Jon Russell launched campaigns well before Baird’s surprise announcement that he would leave Congress.

The Washington Democratic Central Committee will meet in mid-January to make its congressional endorsements. But party Chairman Dwight Pelz told The Columbian on Thursday, “I am going to urge that we not act in the 3rd Congressional District because we want to let the strongest candidate emerge. If we have a really clear candidate, we might want to nominate at the convention.” Both parties will hold their state conventions in Vancouver in June.

Pelz said he hoped to limit the Democratic field to three in the August top-two primary to avoid dividing the Democratic vote. The top two vote-getters in the primary will advance to the general election regardless of political party.

It’s likely there will be an open contest on the Republican side all the way to the August top-two primary as well.

“At this time, there is no formal winnowing process in place,” Clark County GOP Chairman Ryan Hart said. “The state party may adopt those rules at some time. For now, we’re just watching the process.”

Hart said 2010 could be the year Republicans take back the 3rd District seat that Baird has held since 1999. He noted that Republican Dino Rossi carried Clark County in the 2008 governor’s race and conservative Republican Tom Mielke edged Democrat Pam Brokaw for Clark County commissioner in the same election.

“I’m very optimistic that in a year when you don’t have an incumbent to run against, this is a tremendous opportunity for a Republican pickup in the 3rd,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy by a long shot, but given the mood right now, and where we are as a country, people are still looking for that hope and change and the Democrats haven’t delivered thus far.”

Andy Stone of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee disagreed that the 3rd District is vulnerable for Democrats.

“It’s a Democratic district,” he said. “It’s been represented by a Democrat. Obama won it in 2008. We are confident that there will be a Democrat representing the district.”

Tough road ahead

What’s clear is that the campaign will be hard fought.

Herrera, a former congressional staffer, was appointed to the Legislature in late 2007 and won a two-year term in 2008. In an interview, she said that if she runs and is elected, she would pursue the same issues in Congress that she has in Olympia: job creation, health care and affordable energy.

“We are at an all-time high for unemployment,” she said. “What I see coming out of Congress and what I see coming out of Olympia is a disconnect.”

Castillo, who has won key endorsements from Republican elected officials since he announced his campaign, said he would continue to raise money and maintain his fundraising lead.

“People are looking for leadership that’s willing to face tough challenges,” he said. “I was willing to do that, facing a six-term incumbent. That’s why we started six months ago.”

Sniping begins

Wallace, meanwhile, said she is hitting the ground running

“At this point, I’m just working on calling and letting people know that I’m running and I’m in it to win,” she said Thursday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee issued a statement Thursday calling Wallace “just another tax-hiking, job-killing Democrat” and predicted that “Southwest Washington voters will feel alienated by the Democrat Party and be drawn to the Republican platform of smaller government, fiscal responsibility and lower taxes.”

“They obviously are using a canned statement rather than look at my record,” said Wallace, a former state transportation planner who has also worked for the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Columbia Corridor Association in Portland.

“I have a record that starts with job-building,” she said. In the Legislature, she said, she has built a reputation for “accountability, and making the most of every tax dollar we invest.”

Stuart said he had received several calls from people who urged him to run but had decided to stay put.

“Honestly, the people and the issues I care about are here, not in D.C.,” he said. “We have the issue of trying to get people back to work here, we need a bridge project to figure out, and we have a lot of issues surrounding growth, which is where my background is.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.