Politics

Congress Set to Get a Little More Diverse After Tuesday

All 3 front-runners in Washington primary would add diversity to the House

Washington state Sen. Pramila Jayapal, second from right, has benefitted from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' fundraising network. (Courtesy Pramila Jayapal for Congress)

Whoever replaces Rep. Jim McDermott  in the House of Representatives will help make the chamber more diverse.  

After holding Washington's 7th District seat for 14 terms, McDermott is retiring at the end of this Congress, leaving a vacancy in a safe Democratic seat.   

Among the top three candidates in the nine-candidate field to replace him are two openly gay men and a female immigrant from India.   

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McDermott has been a liberal leader in the House for almost 28 years, pushing for single-payer health insurance and voting against both wars in Iraq.  

On most issues, there's little difference between the three Democratic front-runners trying to replace him. They're all touting their progressive credentials.  

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State Rep. Brady Pinero Walkinshaw, who'd be the first openly gay Latino in Congress if elected, entered the race even before McDermott announced his retirement in January, promising to be the "region's next progressive leader."  

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Walkinshaw has earned the backing of former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank — the first member of Congress to enter into a same-sex marriage. The Seattle Times editorial board backed Walkinshaw, too, saying that he "stands out" for his track record of working across the aisle in the state legislature.   A recent Walkinshaw ad played up the diversity he brings to the race.  

"He is gay, he is Latino, he is Trump's worst nightmare," one woman in the ad says.   

The National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Latino Victory Fund are also backing him.  

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King County Council President Joe McDermott — no relation to the sitting congressman — is also gay. He's been endorsed by California Rep. Mark Takano, co-chairman of the House's LGBT Equality Caucus and vice chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.    

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McDermott has served in the state House and Senate and has made his years of legislative experience a focus of his campaign. He initiated a "People's Pledge" that neither of the other two candidates have agreed to.   

EMILY's List is behind state Sen. Pramila Jayapal, calling her a "progressive champion" and a "problem solver."  

Born in India, Jayapal moved to the U.S. by herself when she was 16 to attend Georgetown University. She founded an organization to fight hate crimes against Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities in the wake of 9/11, and has made registering new Americans to vote a big part of her activism.  

Jayapal raised and spent the most during the pre-primary reporting period that ended on July 13. She also ended the period with the most cash on hand. She's benefited from the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his fundraising network.   

Washington has an open top-two primary system, which means that November's general election will likely pit two Democrats against each other. But no matter which two make it to November, it's likely that the winner in this safe Democratic seat will increase the demographic melange in the halls of Congress.   

Contact Pathé at  simonepathe@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at  @sfpathe .

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