Two years ago, pediatrician Kim Schrier won a hotly contested race to become the first Democrat to represent Washington’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S House.
In her bid for a second term, Schrier has been favored by national analysts as a likely bet for reelection, with few signs of Republicans mounting a strong challenge.
But Schrier’s relatively weak showing in the Aug. 4 primary signaled she’s no shoo-in and Republicans are crowing about a potential upset.
Schrier received 43% of the primary vote — the lowest among the state’s congressional incumbents. Two other little-known Democrats running in the primary brought the Democratic vote share to 47%.
That was outmatched by the 49% combined vote for three Republicans on the primary ballot, led by Jesse Jensen, a 37-year-old Amazon program manager and Army Ranger combat veteran who will face Schrier in the Nov. 3 general election.
Last week, based on those primary results, the contest was shifted from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes competitive races across the U.S.
Jensen, who lives in Bonney Lake and is making his first run for elected office, says the 8th District is expressing buyer’s remorse about Schrier.
“Voters elected what they thought was a moderate and they got a Seattle-style progressive, and they are ready for a change,” he said.
Jensen and his advisers point out primary results in Washington have been predictive of the general election. Two years ago, for example, Republican Dino Rossi lost to Schrier in November after a comparable primary showing.
Democrats are not panicking, predicting the November electorate will be much larger — and motivated by the presidential race. They also point to Jensen’s paltry fundraising figures and lack of any national GOP spending in the race.
So far, the race has attracted little attention from national political-action committees. That’s a sharp contrast from 2018, when more than $30 million was poured into the closely watched Rossi-Schrier contest, making it the most expensive House race in state history.
Schrier said she has always expected a tough fight in the 8th District, a moderate territory with independent voters who split tickets.
“This is a purple district. It is no bluer now than when I was elected,” she said.
Schrier, 52, was a pediatrician in Issaquah for 17 years before making her first run for political office two years ago, flipping the district for Democrats as part of a midterm backlash against President Donald Trump.
The district, whose shape resembles a downward-facing Scottish terrier, includes the eastern portions of King and Pierce counties, including the cities of Issaquah, Sammamish and Auburn, and stretches across the Cascade Mountains to Kittitas and Chelan counties.
Schrier said she has logged nearly 10,000 miles of travel in her first term, listening to residents across the district, and held 58 town halls — half of them in-person events with the others conducted online or by telephone.
Jensen has lobbed familiar GOP attacks against Schrier, criticizing her for voting in step with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and for the impeachment of Trump.
More recently, he has imitated Trump’s attacks on Democratic nominee Joe Biden, attempting to tie Schrier to outbreaks of vandalism and violence at some recent Seattle protests, and to the movement to “defund” police departments.
He pointed to a recent attack on the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, where, according to a federal indictment, some people set fires while others attempted to use quick-drying cement to trap officers inside.
“That is attempted murder. She has been silent on it,” Jensen said.
Schrier said she’s been on record repeatedly condemning acts of violence, and is “deeply frustrated” that bad actors may undermine largely peaceful demonstrations with “a really important message about an unequal justice system.”
But Schrier said she doesn’t “hyper focus” on such incidents because Seattle is not part of the 8th District, and the opportunistic “pile on” by Republicans distracts from a legitimate debate about police reforms.
Schrier said she looks forward to reminding voters of her record of working on health care legislation, including efforts to bring down the price of insulin and requiring insurers to cover the full costs of COVID-19 testing.
Nationally, Trump and Republicans have focused relentlessly on scenes of burning cars and demonstrators clashing with police in cities like Seattle and Portland.
Sandeep Kaushik, a Democratic political consultant, said that may have influenced the primary results. “I do think the imagery out of Portland and Seattle is really ramping up anxiety and fear,” he said. “The question is will there be a similar impact in the general election.”
Kaushik called the primary results “sobering” both for Schrier and for Democratic challenger Carolyn Long, who is taking on U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. (Herrera Beutler received 56% support in the primary, in a race Democrats have targeted.)
Frank Greer, a longtime Democratic political consultant who advises Schrier, said he’s “not concerned” with her primary numbers.
While Republicans were motivated by a competitive gubernatorial race that picked police Chief Loren Culp to take on Gov. Jay Inslee this fall, Greer said “there was nothing to motivate Democratic turnout.”
The primary set a record for recent decades, with more than 54% of registered voters participating — the highest since 1964. That’s sure to be dwarfed by the Nov. 3 election, which may reach 80% or higher.
Schrier did not spend money on advertising ahead of the primary and retains a massive fundraising advantage over Jensen as the general-election matchup begins.
Her reelection campaign has raised $3.2 million and had nearly $2.4 million cash on hand as of mid-July, according to the most-recently filed summary reports to the Federal Election Commission.
Jensen has reported raising $192,000 and had just $53,000 cash as of mid-July. He entered the race last October.
That cash deficit is one reason the 8th District contest has not emerged on the national political radar.
In an analysis of the 8th District contest, Kyle Kondik, managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, last week wrote that Jensen “does not seem like a top-tier challenger on paper, and Republican outside groups are not prioritizing the district.”
Still, given the primary vote, he added: “We wonder if there may be some hidden Republican opportunity here…”