Rep. Dave Reichert's decision to retire from Congress has immediately shifted Washington's 8th District into one of the most competitive races of the 2018 midterms, according to political analysts.
Republican Congressman Dave Reichert’s announcement Wednesday that he won’t seek re-election next year immediately vaulted his 8th Congressional District seat into a top pickup opportunity for Democrats seeking to regain control of the U.S. House.
Reichert himself predicted the GOP will have a tough time hanging onto the seat next year.
“I’d certainly like to see a Republican keep the district. I think it’s going to be hard,” he said in an interview, adding that a good Republican candidate should “come with an open mind and ability to work with people on both sides of the aisle… and some tough skin.”
A former King County sheriff elected to the House in 2004, Reichert has cultivated a reputation as a moderate who was no fan of President Donald Trump. But he faced a potentially difficult political climate and had been a regular target of protests for his support of repealing Obamacare and refusal to hold town hall meetings.
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Reichert, who turned 67 on Aug. 29, said he made his decision after spending time with family and friends. He said he told his staff last week and House Speaker Paul Ryan Tuesday night. He said he had no health issues prompting his retirement, boasting of his daily, high-impact “beach body” workouts. “I’ll challenge anybody to push-ups if they want to,” he said.
Although he hinted in a news release of pursuing “new opportunities” in public service, Reichert said he is not in talks for any Trump administration job and has no intention of running for U.S. Senate in 2018 or governor in 2020.
“In making this decision I have no plans whatsoever. My plan is just to retire, and then after that, again as I have always said, I look at every opportunity,” he said.
Even before Reichert’s announcement, several credible, if little-known, Democratic candidates have been campaigning energetically for the 8th District seat. They include: Issaquah City Councilmember Tola Marts, pediatrician Kim Schrier, Amazon manager and former congressional aide Toby Whitney, attorney and former deputy prosecutor Jason Rittereiser, and mortgage business owner Mona Das.
On Wednesday, some Republican leaders were scrambling to figure out a viable successor to Reichert, with state Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, who has twice run for governor and once for U.S. Senate, topping many lists.
In a Facebook post, Rossi sounded very much like a candidate. “I won’t take long to make a decision, but I do need to talk with my family and make sure it makes sense to leave my business to run for office,” Rossi wrote.
He added: “Everyone can see that Washington, D.C., is broken. The people there are good at yelling but they could use some new leaders to show them how to actually solve problems.”
National political analysts, who had previously viewed the 8th District as marginally competitive, said Reichert’s retirement turns the district into a very winnable seat for Democrats.
“If you could have asked Democrats before the cycle ‘which Republican incumbent in Congress do you want to retire?’ Reichert would probably be at or near the top of the list,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan elections and politics newsletter published by the University of Virginia. “This immediately becomes one of the top Democratic pickup opportunities in the country.”
The 8th District, which runs from the eastern side of King and Pierce counties across the Interstate 90 corridor to Chelan County, has been a “swing district on paper,” Kondik said, but Reichert’s popularity has kept it in Republican hands. The district went narrowly for Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election.
Kondik moved the race from a “likely Republican” win to a “toss up” in an online post shortly after Reichert’s announcement. The Cook Political Report, another national political prognosticator, did the same. Analyst Nathan Gonzales, writing for Roll Call, went even further, arguing the race now tilts Democratic, citing President Trump’s poor popularity numbers.
In his retirement announcement, Reichert said he was particularly proud of his work over the years promoting free trade, combating sex trafficking and improving the foster-care system. He also touted his leadership role in expanding the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to cover an additional 22,000 acres of pristine forest in the central Cascade Mountains.
That conservationist record drew praise from Ben Greuel, state director for The Wilderness Society, who said in a statement, “Representative Reichert ignored partisan politics to ensure that our public lands and waters were safeguarded for future generations to enjoy.”
Reichert also said he was proud of helping individual constituents, such as an 85-year-old World War II veteran who was frustrated by a bureaucratic holdup in getting a cane from the Veteran’s Administration; the man was told it’d would take three months.
“I made a phone call and he had a cane that day,” Reichert said.
Democrats were all smiles Wednesday at the prospect of flipping the 8th District seat. “It is infinitely winnable for the Democratic Party,” said state Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski. “It is by no means a cakewalk, but it is definitely a race that is winnable.”
She predicted enthusiasm about the race could drive up Democratic turnout, possibly turning some additional state legislative districts competitive as well.
Still, Republicans were projecting confidence the GOP can prevail.
“With a bitter and expensive primary fight already confronting Democrats in this seat, Republicans are ready to elect another common-sense congressman like Dave Reichert, not another rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi,” Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement Wednesday.
In state Republican circles, talk was already rampant about GOP candidates who might seek to succeed Reichert. While Rossi was the name most frequently mentioned, other candidates also could emerge.
One possibility is Reagan Dunn, the Metropolitan King County Council member whose mother, Jennifer Dunn, represented the 8th District from 1993 to 2005. He ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general in 2012 and his county council district includes a large swath of the Reichert’s congressional district.
Reached by phone, Dunn said he’s focused for now on getting re-elected to his council seat this November.
But Dunn added, “I saw my mom do that job for six terms in Congress. You can’t sort of grow up around it and live back there and see it without having at least a passing interest. I am not ruling anything out.”
State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said Rossi is “the name that comes to everybody’s mind, given how many times he’s run before.”
With congressional seats opening up rarely, Stokesbary predicted a crowded field of candidates. Stokesbary said “it’s too early to say” whether he’d join the candidate field himself, saying he wants to talk with his wife, and consult with Reichert as well.
State Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, the House minority floor leader, said he hasn’t ruled out a run – but is leaning against it. “I’ll take a few days and think about it,” said Wilcox, adding that he may have more impact by staying in the state Legislature.
State Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, the GOP’s Senate floor leader, said he has no interest in running to replace Reichert.
Seattle Times Olympia reporter Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report.