The race to replace retiring Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, is getting more crowded. The latest entrant in the race for Washington’s 10th District congressional seat is Phil Gardner, Heck’s former district director.

Gardner, 28, went to work for Heck’s congressional campaign in 2011, shortly after the 10th District, which covers¬†Olympia, Lakewood and eastern Tacoma, was created following the 2010 Census. When Heck was elected in 2012, Gardner transitioned to his congressional office, serving as his communications director in Washington, D.C. He left that role to run Heck’s reelection campaign in 2014, before starting his own campaign-consulting firm, Orca Organizing, in 2015.

He returned to Heck’s office as district director in 2017 and left that role last week, to run for Congress.

Gardner calls Heck, who announced in December that he would retire at the end of his term, his role model and mentor. “I’m the natural fit to continue on his progressive work in Congress,” Gardner said.

He is the fifth candidate to enter the race, and the fourth Democrat. He joins better-known Democrats Kristine Reeves, a former state representative who resigned from the Legislature to run, and Marilyn Strickland, the former mayor of Tacoma, as well as Joshua Collins, a socialist running as a Democrat, and Republican Nancy Dailey Slotnick, who also ran in 2018, failing to advance out of the primary.

Gardner, who lives in east Tacoma, said he would prioritize health care, infrastructure, veterans issues and “getting serious about the climate emergency and cleaning up Puget Sound.”

If elected, he would be the first person born in the 1990s elected to Congress.

“I really think it’s time for young people to step up, and I keep hearing people say they want young people to run,” Gardner said. “So here we go into the breach.”