If either party believes Republican challenger Jesse Jensen has a good shot at unseating Democratic U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier in the Nov. 3 election, they’re not acting like it.
In contrast with two years ago, when Schrier flipped the historically Republican 8th Congressional District amid a $30 million torrent of ad spending, her reelection bid this year is proceeding quietly, drawing scant interest from outside groups.
Still, Jensen, a decorated combat veteran and former Amazon manager, insists an upset could be in the making, and Schrier, a longtime pediatrician, says she’s taking nothing for granted.
Schrier, 52, defeated former Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi in 2018, taking 52% of the vote in one of the most expensive congressional races in U.S. history.
A Sammamish resident who had run a pediatrics practice in Issaquah, Schrier’s 2018 win was a major victory for Democrats and helped the party take a majority in the U.S. House.
The 8th District remains a potential swing-voter territory, running from eastern King and Pierce counties’ suburbs across the Cascade Mountains to include the more conservative Kittitas and Chelan counties.
“This is a really hard district. It is a very diverse district. It feels more divided this year than it felt two years ago,” Schrier said.
Jensen, 37, a Bonney Lake resident making his first run for office, has been vastly outspent and is getting no substantive aid from national Republicans. But he points to conversations he’s had while doorbelling homes as evidence the district is ready to make a change.
“This is a sleeper race, for sure,” he said.
If Jensen is able to pull off an upset, ticket-splitting voters like Anil Reddy, of Sammamish, may be key. A tech executive, Reddy supports Joe Biden for president and says he voted for Schrier two years ago, but is backing Jensen this year.
“I think Jesse would make a difference from a bipartisan perspective,” Reddy said, citing Jensen’s balanced views on issues including immigration, and his military experience, including four combat tours.
Schrier’s support runs deep among Democrats eager to hang on to the congressional seat. And some have a more personal connection from Schrier’s years as a community pediatrician.
“There is an army of parents that have volunteered for Kim,” said Gayna Williams of Issaquah, whose children were patients of Schrier.
Williams, who works for Amazon, said Schrier engages with voters the same way she did as a doctor. “She is a real listener and wants to understand and do the right thing,” she said.
Schrier’s two years in Congress
The Schrier-Jensen matchup has centered in part on familiar partisan talking points, as Jensen has sought to tie Schrier to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, arguing she’s too liberal on taxes, climate and health care for the moderate district. Schrier has defended her record, touting legislative successes and vowing to fight the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
In her first term, Schrier has cosponsored six pieces of legislation signed into law, including a measure aimed at speeding development of generic drugs like insulin and another requiring insurers to provide COVID-19 tests at no cost to patients.
As the only woman doctor in the U.S. House, Schrier says her experience has given her standing within the Democratic caucus on health care issues, including COVID-19 and vaccine policy. “These are conversations I am able to lead on,” she said.
Schrier sits on the House Committee on Education and Labor and is the sole Washington representative on the House Agriculture Committee, where she has worked to aid fruit growers and other farmers.
If reelected, in addition to health care advocacy, Schrier said she’d like to work on climate impacts on agriculture, such as promoting seaweed-based feed additives for cows “that can reduce the amount of methane they burp.” Methane is a potent heat-trapping gas, and emissions from livestock are a significant contributor to global warming.
Schrier supports Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s calls for a transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy, with a goal of making the U.S. carbon neutral by 2050.
At the same time, Schrier says the country needs “to consider the human toll” of the shift and ensure affected workers receive retraining and other support. “We have got to bring everybody along,” she said.
On most issues, Schrier has stayed in line with her party. She supported the impeachment of Trump after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the U.S. election — even prior to the Ukraine scandal that led the House to launch impeachment proceedings.
A 2019 ranking of ideology by the nonpartisan organization GovTrack placed Schrier near the middle of the House Democratic Caucus. She has voted with Trump just 4.8% of the time over the past two years, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
Jensen grew up in South Dakota and received a political science degree from George Washington University. He joined the Army in 2007, serving seven years, including combat tours in Afghanistan. He achieved the rank of captain in the 75th Ranger Regiment and was awarded two Bronze Stars.
After leaving the Army in 2014, Jensen obtained a master’s degree in business from Columbia University and moved to Washington state with his wife, Mindy. He has since worked in management roles for companies, including Microsoft and Amazon.
Jensen said voters he’s spoken with have appreciated his military background. “We are talking about getting stuff done. No one cared whether I was a Democrat or a Republican in the military,” he said.
In addition to criticizing Schrier’s views, Jensen has emphasized “bread and butter” projects, including building universal broadband for rural areas and adding a third lane to Interstate 90.
He has also criticized efforts in cities like Seattle to cut funding for police departments, saying police should receive more money for training, not less.
Jensen said he has concerns about the annual federal budget deficit, which has soared under Trump, reaching $984 billion in 2019, its highest point in seven years. But he said he would not support raising taxes, even on the wealthy, to address the issue.
“I don’t see how that works,” he said.
Jensen says tax increases would hurt small businesses and criticized Schrier for her support of a carbon tax to combat greenhouse gas emissions. He said he supports other climate measures such as developing modular nuclear reactors to sell to developing countries.
Schrier has raised more than $5 million, and her campaign reported $2.4 million in cash on hand as of Oct. 14. Jensen has raised about $740,000, and reported $200,000 in cash on hand. In a recent online video, he appealed for more money to defeat what he called his “socialist opponent.”
On the COVID-19 pandemic, Jensen said he doesn’t want to play “armchair quarterback” by critiquing Trump’s management.
“Has the response been perfect? No,” he said. But Jensen said politicians should set aside finger-pointing and learn from mistakes through a military-style after-action analysis.
Schrier, who has Type 1 diabetes, has suspended all in-person campaigning due to the pandemic, relying instead on virtual phone banks. “I think it is important as a doctor to set an example of what you do in a pandemic,” she said.
Jensen has continued to go door to door campaigning but said he has avoided large rallies, and he and his volunteers have taken precautions including wearing masks. “I make the joke that democracy this cycle smells like hand sanitizer,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story was missing some information on Anil Reddy, a Sammamish tech executive who says he is voting for Joe Biden and also Jessen Jensen, in part because of Jensen’s four combat tours.