To this point, just one Northwest U.S. House district has had the look of being seriously competitive next year - the Idaho 1st. Add one more as of today: The Washington 3rd.
That is because Democrat Brian Baird, who has held the seat for six terms, says he won't run again. Baird has developed into an entrenched officeholder, even when he seriously ticked off his base over Iraq and was threatened with a strong primary contest (which didn't really materialize). He has held more than 300 town hall meetings and has worked the district hard. He probably could have won re-election easily. But, with him out, you can't say the same about Democratic chances for holding it.
Not that they can't; but that it's by no means a given, a win that should be taken for granted. Baird's own wins have masked the reality of the 3rd, which is that it is as it has been, a competitive area. Baird's last four wins have been landslides, over 60%, but he won the seat in 1998 with 55%, and narrowly lost to incumbent Republican Linda Smith in a close race the election before. Smith held the seat two terms, and before that Democrat Jolene Unsoeld held it for three.
There are solidly Democratic bases here, in central Vancouver, in Olympia and in the old union areas along the Pacific coast. But the Vancouver suburbs, which hold a lot of the population, are mixed or lean Republican, and many of the rural districts are very Republican. Cowlitz County in the middle of the district leans Democratic slightly but can go either way. The region's state legislative delegation is a real mix, from fairly liberal members to some quite conservative.
There's a real conservative streak in many of the nominally Democratic areas. For example, all of the counties in the 3rd except for Thurston County (that would be Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania, Wahkiakum and Pacific) voted in favor of Initiative 1033, the Tim Eyman tax/budget measure on the ballot last month, while it got only 42% of the vote statewide. And that same group of counties, six of the 3rd's seven, voted to reject Referendum 71 - taking the conservative side on the "everything but marriage" domestic partnership measure, while it passed the state with 53.2%. Yes, a Republican could win here.
Expect some candidates in both parties to materialize soon. With the better mousetrap, either party could take this district.
This seat ought to jump toward the top on the priority list for both parties.