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Not so open

Washington has three open – meaning no incumbent running – U.S. House seats this year. (Could be more, theoretically, but probably not.) In one, the 1st district north and east of Seattle to Canada, lively primaries seem to be developing in both parties for what looks like a competitive congressional district.

In the other two, early indications are that one contender in each, Derek Kilmer in the sixth district and Denny Heck in the new 10th, both Democrats, may become slam dunks and start rehearsing their swearing-ins.

Businessman and TVW co-founder Heck, ironically, was defeated in 2010 running in the third district, an Olympia Democrat running in a districts where the political weight was in Clark County to the south. This year, Heck is running in a new district weighted around Olympia, a district so favorable for him he could almost have drawn it himself.

The new sixth district is not so terribly different from the old one as to be a preclusive lock for a candidate. But Kilmer, a state senator with a solid electoral track record in a marginal legislative district, seems to be emerging as the one major candidate to replace retiring Democrat Norm Dicks, the northwest’s most senior member of Congress. And many cycles have passed since Dicks has been seriously challenged.

Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan, while not criticizing Kilmer at all, put some finer points on this in today’s column. He points out that since 1932, when the district was created, it has been “open” just twice, most recently 36 years ago. On that occasion, he writes, “Democrats picked from six candidates and Republicans from three. The fixers probably see that primary as a case study for what not to do because voters, not insiders, made the choice. But that’s the kind of thinking that has left Washington voters with an uninspiring primary this year. So far we have an open state governor race with no primary on either side and an open state attorney general race with no primary on the Democrat side and a marginal one on the Republican side.”

Sometimes even open seats aren’t really all that open.

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