For the Democrats to regain the House of Representatives in November, they must win district WA-08. I went there to meet their challenger Darcy Burner, a little-known former Microsoft employeeby Erik Tarloff / November 19, 2006 / Leave a comment
Washington state’s 8th congressional district (WA-08), comprising an assortment of Seattle suburbs, has been in Republican hands ever since it was created in the early 1980s. Despite this consistency, it is not regarded as intrinsically “red.” Home to Microsoft, its voters tend to be liberal on social issues while leaning conservative on fiscal questions. In presidential elections, they voted for Bill Clinton twice, for Al Gore and for John Kerry. In other words, WA-08 may be considered a swing district, despite never having actually swung.
Nevertheless, for Democrats, the congressional seat has always remained tantalisingly out of reach. Part of the reason may simply be the traditional reluctance of US voters to change their House representation. Even today, with only 27 per cent of voters willing to say congress is doing an acceptable job, most people tell pollsters they’re satisfied with their own representative; it’s those other bums who need to be thrown out of office. From 1993 until 2005, the district sent the popular Jennifer Dunn to Washington. Dunn was a very conservative woman (she named her son “Reagan” when Ronald was still governor of California) who skilfully succeeded in packaging herself as a moderate. After she retired, David Reichert, a county sheriff and long-standing honcho in Washington state Republican circles, narrowly won the seat by taking a page from her playbook, presenting himself as a maverick voice within his party.
For a while Reichert seemed to have cemented his own popularity, and his re-election appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Indeed, it was rumoured he was being groomed for a leadership position within the Republican congressional caucus. He cultivated an image as an environmentalist, crucial for any politician in the Pacific northwest, and, in deference to former House speaker Tip O’Neill’s famous observation that “all politics is local,” he was conscientious about maintaining close contacts within his constituency. But despite all that, the seat now appears to be in play. Reichert’s approval ratings have been falling sharply, currently at 39 per cent. President Bush’s standing among district voters is even lower. The war in Iraq, which Reichert supports, is deeply unpopular in the state, even more so than in the country as a whole. Democratic senator Patty Murray carried the district in her 2004 re-election bid. In recent elections for the state legislature, the 8th replaced some of its Republican representatives with Democrats.…