A Democrat has represented the third Congressional District for most of the last fifty years. But changing demographics have steadily turned the district more Republican. Incumbent Democrat Brian Baird announced this winter he would not seek re-election.
And that’s left a wide open race that’s getting national attention. Amelia Templeton reports on the six candidates competing in the primary.
On a recent weekend, a pair of canvassers for local Democrats are having mixed luck with their get-out-the-vote effort in Vancouver.
The canvassers have a map that shows households in this neighborhood near the center of town that have voted for Democrats in the past. Increasingly, though, even Democrats acknowledge the Vancouver suburbs are voting more Republican.
Dwight Pelz: “I think it’s one of the more competitive races in the country.”
That’s Dwight Pelz. He’s chair of the Washington State Democrats. The third district stretches from Vancouver and the Columbia River to Olympia and the southern edge of the Puget sound.
Pelz says the district’s politics have shifted as its natural resource economy has contracted.
Dwight Pelz: “The district was more centered in the resource areas of timber, fish and oysters. And it was more blue collar unions, the lumber unions. That sort of thing. And it’s about 75 percent suburban now. And the suburbs are the swing element in American politics.”
Nansen Malin is the Pacific County Chairman for the Washington Republicans. She says the race in the third district is a toss-up between the parties.
Nansen Malin: “With Baird stepping out, it’s really anyone’s guess. A Republican is actually just as likely to win if not more likely due to the mood of the country.”
In Washington’s open primary system, Democrats, Republicans and Independents compete together in a single primary race. The top two vote getters advance to the General Election in November. But leaders in both major parties expect one Democrat and one Republican to advance.
And Republican Malin says Denny Heck is clearly the Democrat to beat.
Nansen Malin: “And we assume it will be Heck on the Democrat side”
Three Republicans are vying to make it into the November race. State legislator Jaime Herrera has raised the most money — about $375,000, as of the latest Federal Election Commission Filing. Her main message is limiting federal spending.
Jaime Herrera: “I have time and again voted to rein in out of control spending. And that’s what this election is about. In the state Legislature I’ve earned recognition for unwillingness to spend more of people’s hard-earned money or to increase their taxes.”
Herrera’s served in the state Legislature for three years. And she’s getting national recognition as one of many up-and-coming Republican women competing in the mid-term election.
Republican Financial advisor David Castillo points out he’s the only candidate who decided to run before current Congressman Baird said he wouldn’t seek re-election. Castillo says concern over the deficit is what got him into the race.
David Castillo: “The Federal role with regard to state funding is extremely limited. I think Medicaid obviously is an area where the federal government can be involved. But with regard to a whole host of issues, I think the federal government is spending money and giving money to the states it has no business spending.”
Castillo worked in the Veterans Administration and the Department of Homeland Security under President Bush. He’s raised about $240,000, according to his filings.
And finally there’s David Hedrick. He’s raised less money — about $40,000 as of the last FEC filing. Hedrick says the Federal government should limit itself to defense and border security. He says programs like Medicaid violate the Constitution.
David Hedrick: “Those programs at a Federal level, I don’t see a constitutional justification for. Now can we get rid of them overnight, no, and I don’t think anyone would try to. You can have systems like this. It simply means they are run at a state and local level.”
Even given an energized base, the Republican who emerges from the primary will face a tough opponent in the general. Democratic contender Denny Heck has raised about $600,000 according to FEC filings. And he’s loaned his campaign another $350,000. Heck spent many years in the state Legislature, and was an early investor in video streaming technology.
He says his top priority is creating jobs in the district.
Denny Heck: “The single most important thing that can happen to the nation as a whole is to get credit flowing. We have a credit crunch. Small businesses need access to credit. The most important thing we can do locally is rebuild the Columbia River Crossing.”
The candidates all agree that the current narrow I-5 bridge across the Columbia has put a damper on economic development in the region.
Herrera says she’s often been stuck in traffic on the bridge:
Jaime Herrera: “We need it to be fixed, we need it to be able to move freight and people, and we need it to be safe.”
But the candidates disagree on how to fund the multi-billion dollar project. Hedrick thinks the state of Oregon should foot most of the bill. Herrera and Castillo both oppose tolls. They want the project to be primarily federally funded.
Castillo says the states could share some of the cost:
David Castillo: “Use the bonding capacity of Washington and Oregon to get it done in conjunction with the federal dollars that need to be pat of this. I mean come on, it’s an interstate highway. I believe the federal government is ultimately responsible.”
Heck says he wants to minimize tolls, but that they’re a necessary evil.
Two final candidates are competing in the open primary. Democrat Cheryl Crist of Olympia is a former teacher and a military mom.
She’s running on a platform of cutting defense spending, and getting out of the war in Afghanistan.
Cheryl Crist: “I’m having a wonderful time getting out there educating people and asking them to send me to Congress so we can bring our spending back into balance and work on things people need back at home.”
Crist has raised about $10,000.
Norma Jean Stevens of Ocean Park is running as an Independent. She’s brand new to politics and isn’t actively fundraising for the race.
She says she leans conservative but supports abortion rights.
Jean Stevens: “I don’t have a fancy education, but I consider myself life educated. And I think I’m real close to what the average American is looking for in a representative. Someone who is like them.”
It’s a crowded race, but Meryl Osborn a 90-year-old Vancouver resident is planning to read up on all the candidates. He says he hasn’t missed an election since he was old enough to vote.
Meryl Osborn: “What I am wanting is some honest individual that will stick with what they are campaigning on. That’s the main thing. If I can believe them, I’ll stick with them.”
The Washington primary is August 17th.