Last of four posts on competitive congressional contests in the Northwest.
In our list earlier this fall of four close House races, we picked the contest in Washington District 8 as the toughest and prospectively closest. We were right (not, of course, that we weren't in a rather large crowd in making that assessment). The reasons were clear enough. And now, after election day, as a lot of Seattle area Democrats wonder what went wrong, those reasons and others often mentioned this fall stand.
It was, for some months, presumed to be a close race. It was, very close, close enough that the outcome wasn't fully clear until well after election night. It stood a fair chance of being one of Republican House seats the Democrats could pick up this year, but it never seemed likely to be a runaway win.
Let's review the main reasons Washington 8 was competitive to begin with. It is a historically Republican district trending Democratic, and based on the state legislative election results on November 7, you could reasonably argue the area has now shifted from "lean Republican" to "lean Democratic." Fertile ground, in other words, for a Democratic challenge. The challenge, from former Microsoft manager Darcy Burner, was unified - no primary conflict - highly energetic and (increasingly as the year went on) well funded. Burner was a fine fundraiser and a reasonably skillful campaigner. Republican incumbent Dave Reichert was framed to a degree as a manipulated good haircut riding on the glory of an old criminal case he oversaw when he was sheriff of King County. And in a year of fury at President George W. Bush and the Republicans in charge in Washington, Reichert made the mistake of allowing himself to be identified fairly closely with them.
But don't forget what's countering that. While the 8th district is in transition, that doesn't mean all the Republicans in it have crawled into caves - or that a lot of the voters are disinclined to split their tickets. (The transition probably goes along with increased ticket splitting; the heavier Democratic voting below may have slightly depressed Democratic voting above.) Burner was, if intelligent and enthusiastic, also a new candidate, with a learning curve not only on her part but also on the the part of the voters - they didn't know her all that well. Because much of the campaign backing her was based on the anti-Republican mood, they didn't learn a lot. But they did know Reichert, and for all his flaws, a lot of people in the area liked the guy.