Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist
Can Burner bushwhack Reichert?
All this time, I figured Congressman Dave Reichert, Republican from Washington's 8th District, would win re-election this fall. Maybe not easily, but win nonetheless.
Reichert may not be the sharpest pencil in the backpack, but he has charisma to bottle and sell. More important, in his first term he distinguished himself as an independent thinker. Independent can be a magical word in a swing district like the 8th, which includes Bellevue, Mercer Island and the eastern part of King and Pierce counties.
Reichert wisely bucked GOP leadership on one of the top-10 idiotic things Republicans did in 2005. Remember when the Republican-led Congress attempted, hideously, to intervene in the painful plight of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged Florida woman? Reichert kept cool and voted not to intervene, the only correct move.
Reichert represents his district admirably on a few environmental issues by opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in certain votes.
Now, however, the sand seems to be shifting. Democrat Darcy Burner, a newcomer with very limited political experience, is proving she can at least raise money. For the second quarter in a row, she raked in more than Reichert. The difference between the amount raised this time was not sizable — his $569,076 to her $590,460. Reichert has more cash in the bank.
But politics is a psychological game. Reichert's high-profile fundraiser, starring George W. Bush, was supposed to fill his kitty. More likely, it tied Reichert closer to Bush, a good thing in Omak, not Bellevue. In quick response, Burner's fundraising increased, a sign of how truly unpopular Bush is in parts of Washington.
Disapproval of Bush could be powerful enough to propel her to victory, not because of anything dramatic she has done, but because of a Democratic tide — Democratic state, Democratic year and so on.
Republicans and Democrats nationwide are fascinated by voters in closer-in suburbs such as Bellevue and Mercer Island. Voters in these older, more dense neighborhoods are trending Democratic. Reichert was elected by winning in newer eastern suburbs and exurbs that lean Republican.
Many of us think the 8th is solid Republican because the representative from the district has been a Republican since the district was created. But the 8th is a swinger — supporting Bill Clinton twice, Al Gore once, John Kerry once, Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, but also Republicans such as Slade Gorton and Dino Rossi.
Burner has been a Microsoft manager and businesswoman — I like that — but she has a minimal political résumé. Her political experience amounts to serving as president of the Ames Lake Community Club where she lives near Carnation. She counters with, "That's not what I am running on. I am running as a businesswoman and a mother."
In her head. Certainly candidates have risen to the people's House with limited political experience, but candidates usually need a beefier résumé than super mom, head of a homeowners' association and businesswoman.
Still, the more I think of this race, the more I think Burner might be the right candidate in the right place at the right time.
Think the reverse of the 1994 Republican landslide. Careers are invented under such conditions.
Some say expectations of a Democratic tide are overstated. Republicans believe the war in the Middle East pushes voters back to the "Daddy Party," the GOP. I disagree. How does Bush foreign policy at this juncture make anyone feel safer, anywhere, anyhow?
Bush is Reichert's ball and chain.
For the longest time, Reichert seemed immune from Bush's foibles. As Amy Walter of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report says, Reichert benefits from having an identity separate from Congress. He is still the famous King County sheriff.
Besides, voters just like him.
But a few recent Reichert votes have been head-scratchers. How smart was it to vote on a foolish resolution denouncing press revelations on intelligence gathering? How smart was it to vote against a symbolic motion to raise the federal minimum wage? It wouldn't affect Washington. Our rate is higher. But it shows Reichert marching in lockstep with House leadership and the White House.
This race is still leaning toward the sheriff. But it no longer makes sense to readily dismiss Burner. She may win because Democrats, Republicans and independents in the 8th have had enough of Bush policies, so much so they decide to take a chance on an unknown and unproven Democrat.
Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is email@example.com
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