By shifting eastward, Washington’s traditional battleground known as the 8th Congressional District appears to have lost its swing – at least on paper.
Seemingly poised to benefit from that shift this election is Republican and four-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert.
Reichert, 62, of Auburn – the former lawman-turned-congressman – has deeper pockets, wider name recognition and more experience in elected office than his challenger, Seattle University lecturer and management consultant Karen Porterfield, 53, of Issaquah.
He also seems to have political geography on his side.
Last year’s redrawing of the congressional map stripped away Bellevue, the Interstate 405 corridor and the northern half of east King County from what increasingly had become a battleground in the 8th District.
In their place, Chelan and Kittitas counties have joined the old district’s leftovers – southeastern King and east Pierce counties – to comprise a sprawling new district that straddles the Cascades.
The effect means the new 8th is now seeing red – or at least much more of it. Republican-leaning voters now comprise 56 percent of the district, according to a sampling of three key recent elections. That makes the 8th the third most conservative congressional district in Washington, running barely behind the 5th District in far Eastern Washington for second place.
For Reichert, who’d been forced to work hard every two years to defend his seat in a blue-creeping district, the changing landscape could prove a safety zone.
“I don’t know if ‘safer’ is the right word for me,” Reichert said Tuesday, about what the new territory means to his political future. “I feel that with the experience I’ve gained over the last eight years, people recognize what I’m able to accomplish now.”
Meanwhile, Porterfield refuses to believe the new 8th belongs to the GOP.
Her own polling tells her the new district is a far more moderate mix, running about 41 percent Democrat, 39 percent Republican and 20 percent independent.
“The president carried the new district by 6 points in the last election, and (Gov. Chris Gregoire) lost by one point,” she said. “So that shows this is a moderate, thoughtful district.”
Porterfield will have to bank on that. She faces a Cascadian climb against Reichert, who took 51 percent of the vote compared with her 28 percent in the 8th District’s six-candidate primary field.
The former King County sheriff touts his senior position on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, along with 33 years as a cop, as the experience that sets him apart.
“In the Sheriff’s Office, I managed over a $100 million budget. I faced danger, life and death and was a hostage negotiator,” he said. “I think all those skills – working and bringing people together – that’s what is absolutely needed in Congress.”
Porterfield, who has never held elected office, said she’s garnered necessary experience as a manager and consultant who spent years working for the United Way, The Salvation Army and with other community and philanthropic groups.
“The skill people really are asking about from their elected officials is really helping multiple stakeholders come together to find practical solutions,” she said. “I have that key skill, I just practiced it at the community and nonprofit side, not on the school board.”
On the fundraising front, Reichert is crushing Porterfield, out-raising her by nearly a 15-to-1 margin thanks to special interest-fueled donations.
“People give to my campaigns because I think the way they think,” Reichert said. “That’s why they support me.”
While the Democratic National Committee has dropped big money to support blue candidates with better odds in some of Washington’s other congressional races, it has left Porterfield to largely fend for herself. The upshot has meant she’s largely self-funded her campaign, infusing it when possible with small individual donations.
To make up ground elsewhere, Porterfield said she has worked hard to travel her district, get to know people and spread her message.
“I see things differently than Dave, and I know I can represent this district better,” she said.
Both candidates list as the top issues jobs and the economy.
Portfield’s strategy involves resurrecting the president’s 2012 jobs bill – a measure blocked by majority Republicans that aimed to provide $35 million for creating or protecting what Democrats touted would be 400,000 education, police and firefighter jobs nationwide.
She also cites investment in public infrastructure as key to jump-starting economic and job growth. By doing so, private contractors will win projects and put people to work, while helping rebuild public assets, she said.
“When we talk about spending our way out of a recession, Reagan and Bush both did it,” Porterfield said. “That’s what we’re talking about here.”
Reichert seeks a more free-market approach for growing the economy. He touts his work on trade issues as a member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade and President Barack Obama’s Export Council, including leading an effort to put a new trade agreement with Korea in place.
“Korea is the fourth-largest trading partner for Washington,” Reichert said. “This agreement had immediate positive impacts to our products.”
Key to solving the nation’s economic woes, Reichert added, is reforming the tax code. Reichert said he is “thoroughly immersed” in Ways and Means in finding a fair solution to broaden the tax base, create jobs and reduce the tax burden on lower- and middle-income families.
“We do have to extend the current bracket for at least one year,” Reichert said. “That gives the committee time to go over testimony, take new testimony if it needs to, then evaluate all of it and decide how best to reform the tax code.”
Porterfield counters Reichert’s tax talk doesn’t match his actions.
She points to his support of HB 6169 – a Republican-backed tax reform measure passed along party lines – that Porterfield said illustrates Reichert’s “grandstanding.”
“He got up to say this is going to help families and small business, but what it really did was it gave tax breaks to large corporations,” she said.
On immigration issues – another hot-button issue in the 8th – both candidates claim support for sweeping reform, but with different approaches.
Porterfield supports the DREAM Act, which provides conditional permanent residency to some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
“We also need to overhaul our worker visa program,” she added. “Probably not everyone wants to become a citizen, but they do want to work here. And our orchards on the east side and our dairies on this side of the mountains need them to work.”
Reichert – who said he supported “some aspects” of the DREAM Act, but voted against it – said he supports bringing farming and migrant interests together to find a solution.
“Part of the problem is even the big stakeholders can’t agree on the solution,” he said. “What I want to see is language laid on the table first, then we’ll work to find common ground.”
Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542
8th Congressional District
Occupation: U.S. representative.
Education: Associate of Arts, Concordia Lutheran College.
Civic/political service: United States representative, 2005-present; King County Sheriff, 1998-2005, King County Sheriff’s officer, 1972-2005; U.S. Air Force Reserve, 1971-1976.
Total raised, spent: $1,532,042; $886,672.
Top donors include: Weyerhaeuser, $10,000; International Union of Operating Engineers, $10,000; SMAC PAC (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning contractors), $10,000; The Freedom Project PAC, $10,000; Every Republican Is Crucial PAC, $10,000.
Occupation: Seattle University adjunct faculty member, management consultant
Education: Bachelor of Arts in political science, Western Washington University; Master of Public Administration, Seattle University.
Civic/political service: Volunteer for various nonprofits, including Campfire, United Way, Everett Libraries, National Grantmakers Forum and The Salvation Army.
Total raised, spent: $117,466; $97,310.
Top donors include: Self-financing, $87,000; ActBlue, $7,350; Christopher Reh of Issaquah, $5,000; Miller Adams of Seattle, $500; Suzanne M. Hittman of Seattle, $500.
Source: OpenSecrets.org; Federal Election Commission