Jason Ritchie, the underdog challenger in the race to represent Washington’s 8th Congressional District, is already looking ahead to 2016.
The Issaquah Democrat knows he faces long odds against incumbent Republican Dave Reichert, who is seeking a sixth term.
In the August primary, Reichert won 63 percent of the vote. Ritchie tallied 28 percent. A third candidate picked up the remnants.
Ritchie isn’t ready to concede the race before ballots are counted, but he’s thinking long-term in anticipation of Reichert not running for re-election in two years.
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“We’re building a base,” said Ritchie, a Democrat from Issaquah. “If it’s not this year then it’s 2016. We’re building a base, and that base has been ignored in the 8th District.”
Reichert, 64, the former King County Sheriff, isn’t commenting on his plans for 2016. For now, he is still crisscrossing the 8th District in the waning weeks of the campaign, visiting communities added after boundary revisions in 2012. The 8th District’s new map stretches east of the Cascades to include the cities of Ellensburg and Wenatchee.
Conventional wisdom holds that the old 8th District was blue, and the new version is tinged with purple. President Barack Obama carried both versions in 2008 and 2012. Reichert rattled off the numbers in a recent interview.
“The previous district was all on the west side of the Cascades – a Democrat district plus three points,” he said. “The new district is defined as a Republican district plus one point – but Obama even won it last time. In that regard, the numbers are little bit better, but as far as issues go, I think the similarities really outweigh the differences.”
Water issues, transportation, trade and immigration are equally important on both sides of the Cascades, Reichert said. Representatives from both parties in Washington’s congressional delegation join forces on such matters; Reichert cited a trade bill he has co-sponsored with Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, as well as collaborations with Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, on veterans issues and flood mitigation around the Howard Hanson Dam, east of Auburn.
“We will work with each other on a variety of topics,” Reichert said.
Ritchie, 43, a self-described “yellow dog Democrat,” agrees the 8th District is purple, but he remains adamant about the issue that prompted him to run: the government shutdown of 2013. He continues to criticize Reichert’s votes on the issue.
Ritchie runs a business that modifies homes to provide access to people with disabilities or physical challenges. Many of his customers are veterans and injured workers.
“I can tell you exactly what (the shutdown) cost me in my little business: $135,000,” he said. “I had clients waiting in the hospital to build homes. That got me fired up, so I went right after (Reichert). Be mad about Affordable Care Act – fine –but don’t shut down the government.”
Recent developments in the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State have prompted air strikes from the U.S. and its allies, and a debate over congressional approval of Obama’s military decisions. Both candidates say a clear statement from Congress is warranted.
“What concerns me right now is that response has not happened,” Ritchie said. “Congress – they have ignored it out of political expediency. Does (Obama) have to get approval at some point? Yes. Is Congress obligated to respond? No – that’s the scary part. Do they have to have some skin in the game?”
Reichert said the intricate web of laws surrounding congressional authorization and the definition of war is a running debate. Even within their respective parties, members disagree. He supports a vote.
“There should be a show of support by Congress – I believe it’s important for Congress to take a vote on this,” he said. “I think we needed to take a vote on this before we left – it would have sent a strong message to the terrorist group. If (Speaker of the House) John Boehner calls us back there, I’m on a plane and ready to take a vote.”
While the candidates have traded a few barbs in news articles, they haven’t met in person since a newspaper endorsement meeting in July. Ritchie has called for debates; Reichert has largely ignored him. An upcoming Oct. 21 meet-and-greet event in Auburn might be the only opportunity for the public to see the contenders in the same room.
Reichert had raised $906,389 as of mid-July – the most recent numbers available in federal election records. Ritchie had raised $133,323.
Ritchie believes his chances will improve in 2016; he suspects Reichert will be drafted by state Republicans to run for governor against incumbent Jay Inslee.
“I think this is going to be an open seat in 2016,” Ritchie said of the 8th District slot.
Asked about a possible gubernatorial run, Reichert didn’t say yes – but he didn’t say no.
“I think you have to consider all your options in whatever profession you happen to be in,” he said. “This is where I intend to be on Jan. 1 of 2015, and I intend to do the best job I can. If opportunity presents itself where I have to make a decision as to whether or not I might take a different job, you have to consider those callings. But right now I like where I’m at and I want to keep doing what I’m doing.”