Fueled by anger over President Donald Trump, a pack of credible Democratic challengers is already preparing to challenge Reichert, R-Auburn, who is seeking an eighth term in 2018.
It’s been close to a decade since Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert faced a serious threat to his re-election in Washington’s 8th Congressional District.
But more than a year before the 2018 midterm elections there are already signs Reichert will have a fight on his hands if he hopes to win an eighth term next fall.
Fueled by alarm and anger at President Donald Trump and the GOP’s congressional majority, would-be Democratic challengers are raising money, hiring staff and courting voters from Auburn to Wenatchee.
Among the candidates vying to take on Reichert are a pediatrician, a lawyer, an Amazon manager, a city-council member and a mortgage-business owner.
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Reichert, 67, is a former King County sheriff first elected to Congress in 2004. He intends to run for re-election again, a campaign spokesman said last week.
“The congressman has dedicated his entire adult life to serving Washington and welcomes anyone who hopes to do the same to run for office,” the Reichert campaign added in a statement.
Last year, Reichert easily coasted to a seventh term, beating former sportscaster Tony Ventrella, who ran a lackluster campaign that he suspended too late to remove his name from the ballot.
Democrats hope 2018 will be different, with a possible national wave building against Republicans, spurred by worries about health care, immigration, white nationalist violence and other concerns building record disapproval ratings for Trump.
“The negative political headwinds on him [Reichert] are really strong,” said Drew Godinich, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has listed Reichert among its top targets in 2018.
To retake the majority in the House, Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats. National prognosticators have so far ranked Reichert as a likely bet to be re-elected absent a historic wave.
Democrats have talked tough about Reichert before, but the party has not substantively backed a challenger since 2010, when former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene lost amid a GOP-friendly tea-party backlash against President Barack Obama. (DelBene was elected to Congress in the 1st District two years later.)
The 8th District only got friendlier for Reichert in a round of political redistricting after the 2010 Census. The reshaped map shed Democrat-heavy areas around Bellevue and picked up large swaths of Central Washington.
It now runs from the eastern side of King and Pierce counties, including Reichert’s Auburn home, across the Interstate 90 corridor to Lake Chelan, where he has a cabin.
In a statement, Chris Martin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, pooh-poohed Democrats’ talk of beating Reichert, saying he has “an unparalleled record of public service and continues to deliver results for his district.”
“The crowded Democratic primary will force their candidates to adopt far-left positions that will be unpalatable to general election voters,” Martin predicted.
Most of Reichert’s challengers are running their first campaigns, and some have only recently moved into the district.
But they are campaigning energetically, shredding Reichert as a Trump enabler whose reputation as a moderate is overstated and who has for years refused to face constituents in a public town hall.
Kim Schrier, 49, a pediatrician from Sammamish, is the latest Democrat to enter the race, announcing her candidacy in early August.
She said she never considered running for office before Trump’s election.
“I was so devastated by the results,” she said. And since then, “everything I feared would come true has come true.”
“I have a 9-year-old son who I know is going to ask me one day: ‘What did you do to push back?’ ”
With health care sure to be a major concern in the 2018 election, Schrier’s background could make a compelling profile for Democrats.
Schrier has worked as a pediatrician at Virginia Mason in Issaquah for 16 years. She also has Type 1 diabetes, having been diagnosed as a teenager. “I have a very real sense of what happens when you take health care away from people,” she said.
Like other Democrats, Schrier doesn’t give Reichert much credit for his vote against the final House Republican health-care bill in May.
Reichert had voted in March to advance an earlier version of the legislation through committee and remained publicly undecided on the final bill until just before a floor vote, when it was apparent Republican leaders had enough votes to pass the measure without him.
While all of Reichert’s would-be opponents criticize him for refusing to hold town halls with constituents, attorney Jason Rittereiser is offering the most extreme contrast.
Rittereiser, 33, plans to hold 30 public town-hall meetings across the district in September. He slammed Reichert for dodging public town halls while accepting campaign checks from banks and other big corporations.
“He is not accessible to the people,” Rittereiser said. “I think we’ve been underrepresented in our district for a long time.”
A former King County deputy prosecutor who handled sexual assaults and violent crimes, Rittereiser has worked for the last three years for a national employment-law firm with offices in Seattle.
He grew up in Ellensburg and had been living in Seattle but moved to Issaquah a couple of months before declaring his candidacy. Rittereiser said he can stand out among Reichert’s challengers as someone who has lived on both sides of the Cascades.
Among the Democrats in the race so far, Toby Whitney has the most experience with how Congress works.
Since 2014, Whitney, 50, has managed a software-development group at Amazon. But before that he spent six years in Washington, D.C., working for the House Ways and Means Committee and as legislative director for longtime Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott.
Whitney said he left D.C. out of frustration with a system that favors corporate interests over the average American. He said Trump’s election motivated him to seek office — with a focus on fixing the financial rut hobbling the middle class.
“I believe the biggest issue of our time is the lack of wage growth and economic mobility of the middle and working class in the last 40 years,” Whitney said.
He said the U.S. needs to provide workers paid parental leave, fix a broken retirement system reliant on 401(k)s, and guarantee two years of free community college and lifetime job retraining.
Whitney splits his time between a home in Seattle and one on Snoqualmie Pass.
Unlike some of the other candidates, Mona Das, 45, said she has been thinking of running for political office for a while. She’d attended training for women candidates last year at Yale University.
But waking up Nov. 9 to news of Trump’s victory solidified her plans. “I knew everything we hold dear and care about was going to be under attack,” she said.
As a first-generation immigrant who came to the U.S. from India as a child, as well as a woman and business owner, Das said she could bring important perspectives to Congress, which she said already has plenty of doctors and lawyers.
“My family came here with six dollars,” Das said. “One thing I can say about Trump is he has fueled people like me to step up and run for office.”
A self-described progressive Democrat, Das moved to Covington from Seattle in June. She started her mortgage business, which focuses on first-time homebuyers, in Portland, but moved it to Renton four years ago.
In knocking on doors and meeting voters every weekend, Das said people are happy to hear from a politician who listens. While the district may not be as liberal as Seattle, she said it’s changing as people move there seeking more affordable homes.
“A lot of these folks are moving into Renton and Kent and Auburn,” she said. “The district is becoming more diverse every day.”
Tola Marts is the only elected official running against Reichert.
An Issaquah City Council member since 2010, Marts, 48, jumped into the congressional race earlier than most, announcing his campaign in May.
An engineer, Marts works at a lab that aids in vaccine research to help poor populations in Africa and other developing areas. He previously worked at Blue Origin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ private space-rocket company.
Marts argued Reichert has grown too conservative for the 8th District. He pointed to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com that shows Reichert votes for Trump’s agenda more than 80 percent of the time.
“He finds a few areas where he doesn’t go in lockstep … but by and large he votes on what the president wants,” he said.
Marts said he’s happy the list of Reichert challengers keeps growing. “I am hoping all these Democratic candidates stay positive,” he said. “As long as all of us focus on taking out Dave Reichert, things will sort themselves out.”
A few other candidates also have filed paperwork to challenge Reichert, including Tom Cramer, who ran as a Democrat in the 2012 primary against U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, receiving 7 percent of the vote. Cramer’s website says he is running to pursue “higher pay for regular people.”
Susan Hutchison, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, said she’s not worried about Reichert’s seat, pointing out that most GOP statewide candidates carried the district in 2016.
“It’s good to have campaigns. It helps our candidates,” Hutchison said.