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Reichert May Face Tough Challenge From Neophyte

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Rep. Dave Reichert probably envies his fellow freshman Republican from the Evergreen State, Rep. Cathy McMorris.

Both emerged from tough primaries to win nationally targeted open seats in 2004. Both have distinguished themselves early in the 109th Congress and are considered rising stars in the GOP — Reichert even snagged a subcommittee chairmanship out of the gate, one of only six freshmen ever to do so. And both face unknown political neophytes in their re-election campaigns this November.

But while McMorris, whose district sits safely east of the Cascade Mountains in strong GOP territory, likely will coast back to Congress, Reichert may have to fight tooth-and-nail to become a sophomore.

Reichert represents a classic swing suburban district outside of Seattle that is becoming more Democratic. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) took the 8th district with 51 percent of the vote in 2004, compared to President Bush’s 48 percent, and Reichert won with just 52 percent last time.

“The 8th is a swing, Democratic district,” concedes Reichert’s political consultant Bruce Boram. “Any Democratic opponent who runs against Reichert starts at 43 percent [of the vote].”

Add that more than 60 percent of 8th district voters currently believe the country is on the wrong track, according to recent polls, that the popularity of Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress are at all-time lows and that the district “is definitely trending in the Democrats’ favor,” and “it’s an environment where you have to take that seriously,” Boram added.

The factors Boram ticks off combine to make a potent electoral cocktail, but what could make it a double for Reichert is money.

Democrat Darcy Burner surprised national Democrats, Republicans and probably Reichert by outraising him 2-1 in the first quarter of this year.

She still trails him in overall cash on hand, but she dramatically narrowed the ratio with a stellar three-month period that saw her bring in $140,000 in the last 10 days of March.

Boram said Reichert likely began April with more than $700,000 while Burner had $355,000 in the bank.

Burner gave her campaign $25,000 and loaned it $10,000 but is not expected to seriously self-fund.

“Darcy Burner has done a phenomenal job establishing herself as an aggressive candidate for change right out of the gate,” said Kate Bedingfield, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “She’s really demonstrated she’s going to make a run at this seat.”

Neither the DCCC nor the Washington Democratic Party recruited Burner, a 35-year-old former Microsoft executive. A wealthy state Representative passed on the race, as did a number of other officeholders and the well-known radio personality Reichert defeated last time.

Burner initially had a primary opponent, but he dropped his bid and endorsed her. The Democratic members of the state’s Congressional delegation have held a fundraiser for her, and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) will headline an event for her later this month.

“Darcy has exceeded expectations at every point in her life,” said Zach Silk, her campaign manager. “I think she has a story and a biography that connects with the district. I think Republicans are going to dismiss her at their peril.”

The matchup does not top pundits’ competitive list and, though Reichert is a beneficiary of the Retain Our Majority Program — a program to protect potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents — national and local Republicans are confident about Reichert’s chances.

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