By this time two years ago, a pack of Democrats was already competing to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in Washington’s 8th Congressional District, in an early sign of partisan fervor for the 2018 midterm elections that flipped control of the House of Representatives.
Reichert bowed out of that race, leading to the election of Kim Schrier, an Issaquah pediatrician who became the first Democrat to represent the historically Republican district, defeating former state Sen. Dino Rossi in the most expensive House race in state history.
With the 2020 election season rapidly approaching — and a shot at reclaiming the seat — Republicans have yet to field a formidable challenger against Schrier.
The GOP candidate deficit extends to other marquee 2020 races, evidence of the challenges facing the party in a state where President Donald Trump’s deep unpopularity is expected to be a drag down the ballot. The GOP has not produced a top-tier candidate for governor, despite arguing that Gov. Jay Inslee is vulnerable in his bid for a third term. No Republican so far is running for attorney general against Democrat Bob Ferguson.
That picture could change, depending in large part on Reichert.
The former seven-term congressman from Auburn “is considering” a return to politics with a challenge of Inslee for governor in 2020, said state Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich, adding “he’s certainly not running at this point.” Whether or not Reichert runs, he said “voters deserve an alternative — a viable alternative.”
Reichert, who has been working for the lobbying firm Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs since January, could not be reached for comment. GOP sources say he broached the idea of running for governor a couple of weeks ago at a barbecue with longtime political associates. The talk intensified last week, but it remains unclear whether Reichert will take the plunge.
He has had a history of stoking speculation about bids for governor and the U.S. Senate, only to back away. In 2015, he decided against challenging Inslee’s bid for a second term the next year after viewing results of a poll.
The state GOP has the longest gubernatorial election losing streak in the nation. Barring a shift in their candidate field — or the national political climate — they are likely in for another rough year, some Republicans acknowledge.
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn said last week Republicans are “still licking their wounds from the midterm beat-downs,” which saw Democrats take the U.S. House and expand their majorities in the Legislature.
“There is very little energy right now for candidates,” said Dunn, a Republican, adding “that may change.”
Dunn previously considered running for the 8th Congressional District seat held for more than a decade by his mother, the late U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn. But he’s taking a pass. “I am 100 percent out,” he said.
Swank has filed
The only candidate who has filed with the Federal Election Commission to challenge Schrier is Keith Swank, a Seattle police captain who lives in Puyallup and ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, getting 2 percent of the vote in the primary. Swank has raised $505 to Schrier’s $1 million.
Another Republican candidate, a tech worker and military veteran who has not previously run for office, has been lining up support and is expected to announce his candidacy for the 8th District seat in early September.
“I honestly believe we will retake the 8th,” Heimlich said, arguing Schrier has shown herself too liberal for the moderate district with her recent embrace of an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Schrier said Republicans are exaggerating her impeachment stance. “What I have supported is a deep inquiry into all of the potential criminal activity of this president and his colleagues,” she said, saying the Trump administration was stonewalling regular congressional inquiries.
As for her reelection bid, Schrier said she’s not sensing enthusiasm among Republicans comparable to what Democrats were feeling two years ago. “There was a real passion and panic about the direction of our country. I don’t think that the Republicans are feeling that same drive,” she said.
Schrier’s win was powered by big margins in King County suburban cities, including Issaquah, Sammamish and Auburn, overwhelming the rural, Republican-leaning swaths of the district, which runs across the Cascade Mountains to include Kittitas and Chelan counties.
Suburban support for Republicans, which had been declining for years, reached a nadir in 2018, leading to Schrier’s win and to the defeat of the few remaining GOP state legislators representing districts in King County. About one-third of the state’s 4 million voters reside in King County, which has been trending increasingly Democratic for decades.
Stuart Elway, a longtime independent pollster, said he’s seen no signs of that trend reversing itself. In his most recent poll, conducted for the online news site Crosscut, Elway found nearly twice as many voters now identify as Democrats (41 percent) than Republicans (21 percent) — a near-record advantage in the decades he’s tracked those numbers. “This is shaping up as a pretty bad year for Republicans to run with Trump at the head of the ticket,” Elway said.
That helps explain why some better-known Republicans, such as Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and state House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox, have not taken the leap into major 2020 races.
Republicans now hold just two statewide elected offices, with Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Treasurer Duane Davidson.