In a year of the political outsider, the two candidates for Washington's most-watched U.S. House race - Republican Jaime Herrera and Democrat Denny Heck in the 3rd Congressional District - are casting themselves as newcomers.
Yet while both want to bring new perspectives to Congress, both also are reaching back to embrace ideas their respective parties have espoused before.
And they are getting support from party mainstays. Herrera is backed by Republicans such as former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Secretary of State Sam Reed. Heck is supported by Democrats Gov. Chris Gregoire, former Gov. Booth Gardner and retiring U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, whose seat he and Herrera are competing for.
The election ends Nov. 2 in the seven Southwest Washington counties that are part of the sprawling 3rd District, which stretches from Olympia to Vancouver and from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean.
“I’m running because I believe we need to change directions,” said Herrera, whose background is almost entirely in government – from an internship with the White House staff of President George W. Bush to a senior policy job for a congresswoman and more recently a state House seat. “We need to get on course.”
Heck is quick to differentiate himself from Herrera.
“I would characterize the difference between us as worlds,” said Heck, who had a long career in government and more recently has worked in the private sector. “My passion is about job creation and getting that going.”
Heck cannot escape his government ties. He is, after all, a former state legislator and chief of staff to a governor, but he also co-founded the nonprofit TVW network and helped start up businesses that made him wealthy enough to give his own campaign $350,000. He calls himself the only candidate who has actually created jobs and says he has been out of elective politics for 25 years.
Heck also wants a course change and says Congress has failed to make job creation its No. 1 priority, which he would push to do. He told The Olympian that his experience is deeper and broader than Herrera’s and that he has spent the last 10 years creating jobs.
Heck supports the actions of U.S. House Democrats on controversial issues – the passage of an economic stimulus package and the health care reform bill – but also criticizes both bills for what he sees as shortcomings.
Heck also says the federal tax code can be changed to stimulate job growth – by rewarding small businesses for hiring and by encouraging investment and hiring in the alternative energy fields.
Herrera has criticized some of her own party’s actions, saying the GOP deserved to lose power in 2006 because it overspent, failed to reform health care and had ethical lapses.
She says the way out of the recession is to trust the free market to revive itself. She wants to cut federal spending, cut taxes, repeal health care reform, cut business regulations and undo Wall Street reforms, arguing that uncertainty caused by new regulation is hampering the recovery.
Despite disagreements on most policy questions, the candidates share a trait: Both went to the state Legislature at a young age. Heck served five terms in the state House starting in the mid-1970s at age 24, and he rose to majority leader. Herrera has served three years, beginning with an appointment when she was 28.
But both are distancing themselves from Congress while suggesting the other is tied to an agenda that has been tried and failed.
Herrera or her allies have run ads describing Heck as a 30-year insider. But one of Herrera’s poorly timed ads hit the Vancouver-area market just as she went to Washington, D.C., for a fundraiser with national Republicans, according to news reports.
Heck said he would have voted for the $787 billion economic stimulus – if he’d been in the House in early 2009 – and he thinks it saved or created about 2 million jobs. But he said the stimulus wasn’t focused enough on infrastructure improvements in areas of high joblessness, including the 3rd District.
Similarly, Heck supported the federal health care overhaul because it takes away insurers’ ability to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions and because it expands the national insurance pool by 32 million people. This means hospitals and clinics will face lower costs caring for uninsured patients. Those costs are often shifted onto patients with insurance.
But Heck said the bill failed to do enough to bring down costs of care and will be very challenging to implement.
Both the stimulus and health reform package are major issues in the race. Herrera wants to repeal the health reform and replace it with free-market ideas that are unproved. She wants to let consumers and small associations buy insurance plans across state lines, broaden use of health-savings accounts and limit lawsuits for malpractice.
NATIONAL VS. LOCAL
The race has drawn considerable national interest from Democratic and Republican groups – and independent expenditures. The National Republican Congressional Committee has sponsored ads for Herrera and the far-right group Americans for Prosperity ran ads right after the Aug. 17 primary trying to tie Heck to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The nonpartisan FactCheck.org singled out that ad and others like it around the country as false because it claimed the $787 billion stimulus “failed to save and create jobs.” The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the stimulus expanded employment by 1.4 million to 3.3 million people.
And despite voter frustration about bank bailouts and the Democrats’ handling of the economy, a February report by the Budget Office described unemployment benefits and a payroll tax break for employers as the most effective stimulus options; tax breaks for highest earners were least effective.
On the other side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out mailers in recent weeks warning that Herrera wants to take away abortion rights. The fliers echo Democrats’ ads in close races around the country where the party suggests that Republican control of Congress would bring back a socially conservative agenda.
Herrera’s position is in sharp contrast to that of Heck, who is endorsed by reproductive rights groups including NARAL.
Herrera’s campaign brushes off the fliers and uses the national stock comment – that it is an effort by Heck supporters to change the subject. But Herrera has clearly said she thinks the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights should be overturned, and the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, has endorsed her.
MONEY A FACTOR?
Heading into the campaign’s final stretch, Heck appears to have a financial advantage – although spending by outside groups could tilt things toward Herrera.
Heck reported collecting just over $1 million as of late July, including $350,000 of his own money. He had $707,840 cash on hand, an amount that has likely shrunk with his more recent television ad buys.
By comparison, Herrera raised $410,627 with $113,838 on hand. But she too has spent on ads and, like Heck, has raised additional funds not yet on record with the Federal Elections Commission.
Luke Esser, the state Republican chairman, said Vice President Biden’s visit lets Republicans tie Heck to the national Democrats’ performance, but he said it also is a chance for Heck’s campaign to gain a lot of funds, which helps Heck at this point in the race.
Both candidates have raised most of their funds from individuals. But Heck had $128,350 from political action committees and Herrera had $38,800 from PACs.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog