A Galaxy of Political Rising Stars in ‘The Other Washington’

Posted April 30, 2007 at 6:53pm

The political action in the Evergreen State next year is supposed to be a gubernatorial grudge match. [IMGCAP(1)]

Former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) made clear he wanted to avenge his hair-thin 2004 loss, which took three counts of the ballots and a court ruling to decide, in 2008.

Republicans were up in arms, convinced that officials in Democratic-heavy King County had put in the fix for then-Attorney General Christine Gregoire (D).

But now that Gregoire has occupied the governor’s mansion for more than two years, Rossi seems less certain about a rematch.

He recently told The Associated Press: “Toward the end of [2007], that’s when we’ll decide. “I haven’t said no at this point. I haven’t ruled it out, and I haven’t ruled it in.”

Without Rossi, the Republican bench looks pretty weak.

The only Republican to hold a major statewide office is Attorney General Rob McKenna.

The commissioner of public lands and the state superintendent of public instruction also are Republicans.

John Stanton (R), head of the former Western Wireless and a multimillionaire, has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate. His name also surfaced last year as a potential challenger to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D), who captured 57 percent of the vote on her way to defeating insurance executive Mike McGavick (R).

Sen. Patty Murray (D) handily won a third term in 2004.

Democrats hold six of the state’s nine Congressional seats and enjoy significant majorities in the state Legislature.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state House 62 to 36, and 32 to 17 in the Senate.

The only announced Congressional challenger to date on either side is Darcy Burner (D).

A political neophyte, Burner held Rep. Dave Reichert (R) to 51 percent of the vote last year. She already has signed up for a rematch.

But state Rep. Ross Hunter (D), a wealthy former Microsoft executive, is also weighing a bid for Reichert’s seat.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wanted Hunter to challenge Reichert in the suburban Seattle 8th district last year but he demurred largely because of a health problem that has since been rectified.

Hunter said he would make his decision about the 2008 race after the legislative session concluded. State lawmakers finished up their business in Olympia last week, but Hunter so far has remained mum.

“We do see a tide in the 8th; it is turning blue,” Fernando Cuevas, a DCCC spokesman, said of the swing district.

Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party, said Reichert, a former King County sheriff, will never get a pass in his competitive district.

“We think Sheriff Reichert is going to have a tough race on his hands again,” Pelz said.

Pelz says he plans to be on offense across the entire state next year.

“We’re going to take a hard shot at the three Republican seats,” he said.

Pelz hopes Peter Goldmark (D), who entered the race against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) late last cycle, will give it another go in the Spokane-based 5th district.

Pelz believes that if Goldmark has a full cycle to amp up, the rancher will be able to put the seat once represented by former Speaker Tom Foley (D) in play.

McMorris Rodgers beat Goldmark 56 percent to 44 percent — a better showing than the highly touted businessman Don Barbieri (D) managed against her in 2004.

Nonetheless, the 5th district is not exactly fertile Democratic territory. President Bush trounced Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) there, 57 percent to 41 percent, in 2004.

Pelz said a couple of newcomers, George Fearing, a lawyer, and Gordon Congdon, a conservation officer, are eyeing Rep. Doc Hastings (R) in the 4th district.

The central Washington 4th district leans heavily Republican — it preferred Bush 63 percent to 35 percent over Kerry in 2004. But Hastings has been the subject of retirement rumors and Democrats think that if the former House ethics committee chairman were to hang it up, they could make a race of it.

Hastings has enjoyed a tight lock on his seat since first winning it in 1994.

Republicans say they will not give up seats without a fight.

The National Republican Congressional Committee once again believes that retired Navy Capt. Doug Roulstone (R) could give Rep. Rick Larsen (D) a competitive race in the 2nd district.

Roulstone, who lost to Larsen 64 percent to 36 percent last year, has not committed to a rematch yet.

Republicans were bullish on Roulstone last year, but given the anti-Republican environment the NRCC hardly had the resources to help a long-shot challenger such as Roulstone.

A Republican held the 2nd district as recently as 2000. And Larsen won narrow victories in 2000 and 2002, followed by more comfortable victories in 2004 and 2006.

So far, the rest of the Evergreen State’s delegation looks pretty safe.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D), first elected in 1998, has won his 1st district seat comfortably since 2000. Rep. Brian Baird (D) has yet to break a sweat in the 3rd.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D) can probably keep the seat he has occupied since 1976 for as long as he wants it and the same goes for Rep. Jim McDermott (D) in the 7th.

Rep. Adam Smith (D) is in a more competitive district but no one has stepped forward to challenge him in the 9th yet.

Republicans believe they are building a bench which will make them more competitive down the road.

Often mentioned as GOP up-and-comers are state Sen. Dale Branland in the 2nd district and former NFL player John Didion and Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey in the 3rd.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Derek Kilmer, who resides in the 6th district, is one to watch, as is state Rep. Christopher Hurst in the 8th, Washington Democrats say.

Pelz said he can hardly imagine a cycle in which his party would not have the advantage.

“The Democratic Party is so much stronger than the Republican party in Washington State right now,” he said.