The contest to replace Rep. Denny Heck in Congress, the only representative Washington’s 10th Congressional District has ever known, has drawn 19 candidates, more than twice as many as any other U.S. House race in Washington.
The leading candidates, judging by fundraising numbers and their ability to field a robust campaign, include two state legislators, a former Tacoma mayor, a socialist truck driver, a former staffer for Heck and a 25-year Army veteran.
Heck’s retirement announcement in December — he subsequently decided to run for lieutenant governor when the incumbent, Cyrus Habib, decided to become a Jesuit priest — triggered the free-for-all for the open seat in what’s generally seen as a safe district for Democrats.
Heck, a Democrat, was first elected to the district representing Olympia, Lakewood, Puyallup and eastern Tacoma, in 2012, when it was created after the 2010 census. He’s been reelected every two years since. He won 61% and 59% of the vote in his last two general elections.
The top two candidates in the Aug. 4 primary, regardless of party, will face off in the November general election.
Clustered at the top of fundraising charts are three Democratic women, each with experience in elected office, and who each would represent a first for Washington’s congressional delegation. Each had raised around a quarter million dollars through the end of March, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Former state Rep. Kristine Reeves, 39, a Democrat who stepped down from the Legislature in December to run for Congress, is a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and director of economic development for the Military and Defense Sector in the state Commerce Department. She would be the first African American elected to Congress from Washington. Reeves has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Adam Smith and 10 Democratic members of the state Legislature.
Reeves lives in Federal Way, just outside the 10th District boundaries, according to voting records, but a person doesn’t need to live in a district to run in it.
Former two-term Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, 57, a Democrat, most recently ran the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce for two years, including through last year’s City Council elections, when the chamber spent heavily on a mostly unsuccessful slate of candidates.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, to an American service-member father and a Korean mother, she would also be the first African American representative from Washington and would be the first Korean American woman elected to Congress. She has been endorsed by former Govs. Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards.
Strickland, who lived outside the district’s boundaries when she announced her run, moved into Tacoma last month and now is within the district, according to property and voting records.
State Rep. Beth Doglio, 55, a Democrat, has served two terms in the state Legislature after a long career as an organizer and environmental activist. She was the founding director of Washington Conservation Voters and later worked for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Audubon Washington and Climate Solutions. Doglio, who identifies as bisexual, would be the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Washington. She has been endorsed by former presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal and 49 Democratic members of the state Legislature.
Three other candidates among the lot of 19 have raised substantial sums.
Joshua Collins, 26, a socialist, is a long-haul truck driver with no experience in elected office running under the banner of the Essential Workers Party. He raised about $205,000 through the end of March, relying heavily on Twitter, where he has more than 10 times as many followers as the other five leading candidates combined. He would be the first person born in the 1990s elected to Congress.
Phil Gardner, 28, a Democrat, was Heck’s district director for two years before resigning to run for office. Before that, he worked for Heck’s office and campaign in other capacities and started a political consulting firm, Orca Organizing. He had raised about $108,000 through the end of March and would also be the first person born in the 1990s elected to Congress and the first openly LGBTQ member from Washington. Gardner has been endorsed by state Auditor Pat McCarthy and Puyallup Mayor Julie Door.
Nancy Dailey Slotnick, 56, is the race’s leading Republican, raising about $27,000 through the end of March. She served in the Army for 20 years, including a combat tour in Somalia, and in the Army Reserves for five years. She ran for the 10th District seat in 2018 as an independent, coming in last in a four-person primary. With her husband, she runs Setracon, a security consulting firm.
Three other Republicans, Rian Ingrim, Ryan Tate and Don Hewett, reported raising several hundred dollars through the end of March.
Doglio and Collins both support a Medicare for all, single-payer health care system, as championed by Sanders and Jayapal. Both support a Green New Deal to fight climate change.
Reeves and Strickland support expanding the Affordable Care Act with a public health insurance option. Gardner says he wishes a public option had been included with the ACA and would support Medicare for All, with some caveats.
Reeves has stressed her personal biography during the campaign: As a child she was in and out of foster care, she was homeless at 16 and she was the first in her family to go to college.
“I’m a product of our state’s social safety net,” she said in a recent debate, sponsored by Washington State Wire and the Nature Conservancy. “I know what it’s like to struggle, I know what it’s like to fight hard and overcome.”
Doglio said she’s running because her 16-year-old son urged her to address “the most important issue for my generation.”
“We need to address the climate crisis at scale,” Doglio said. “I’m the only candidate that has the depth of knowledge and experience in actually passing policies to create our fossil-free future.”
Strickland, through her work for the Seattle chamber, represents the more business-friendly wing of the Democratic Party. The chamber got nearly $1.5 million from Amazon to work to influence last year’s Seattle City Council elections.
“I’m a lifelong Democrat, I was an Obama Democrat, I will ride for that, but I think people want to solve problems,” she said. She quoted former presidential candidate Andrew Yang: “Not left, not right, forward, and that’s what people want.”
Collins, whose website lists dozens of policy proposals, ranging from abolishing the CIA and NSA to creating “community armories” as the only way to sell ammunition, stressed his experience as a truck driver and in low-wage jobs.
“If you’re someone who grew up poor, if you’re someone who’s been a worker in America, you know how difficult it is,” he said. “I’m a worker, that’s who I am.”
Gardner described himself as a “liberal Democrat with progressive values.” In the recent debate he accused Reeves, Strickland and Doglio of soliciting super PAC support, for having awkwardly worded blurbs on their websites that an outside organization could use to help tailor supportive advertising, skirting rules against communicating with a campaign.
“They want their help, that’s their plan to win,” Gardner said.
There is no evidence that any super PAC has spent money on the race.
Slotnick said she’s running because she’s tired of “hyperpartisan bickering.” She calls herself a “fiscal conservative and a social moderate.” Her website, unique among the six leading candidates, includes almost no discussion of specific policy issues.