The race is on to replace Congressman Brian Baird of Vancouver. Baird surprised a lot of people when he announced he would not seek a seventh term. He was an independent representative of an independent-minded district in Southwest Washington.

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird of Vancouver startled Washington’s political establishment this week by announcing he will not seek a seventh term next year in the 3rd Congressional District of Southwest Washington.

Baird has been an independent voice in an independent-minded place — the 3rd is a bona fide swing district. The district voted for President Obama in 2008 but earlier supported President George W. Bush. Republicans and Democrats held the seat during the past century since the district was created following the 1900 census, flipping back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.

Baird’s nonconformist streak has caused trouble with his party, most pointedly and most recently with his “no” vote on health-care reform. Baird drew the ire of local party members and House leadership when he became the only Washington Democrat to oppose the health-care overhaul approved by a vote of 220-215. In other words, his vote was needed.

House leadership also bristled in 2007 when Baird not only supported but was a cheerleader for the surge in Iraq.

His decision creates an open seat in the House with opportunities aplenty for both Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans have more reason to be excited because they have had fewer victories in state campaigns in recent years. They lack a name candidate for U.S. Senate against popular incumbent Patty Murray in 2010, and there is some movement among voters toward Republicans.

Several Republicans and Democrats are planning to run for Baird’s seat, which becomes hot property.

Our state delegation has been fairly stable. The last time there was an opening was in 2004 when George Nethercutt left the 5th District of Eastern Washington and Jennifer Dunn vacated the 8th District seat of eastern King and Pierce counties.

Baird served his district well. Unconventionally? Yes, but he is a reasonable match for the political inclinations of his constituents. An individualist, he will be missed.