Republican Jaime Herrera defeated Democrat Denny Heck by more than 10,000 votes in early returns Tuesday in a nationally watched 3rd Congressional District matchup that drew close to $7 million in spending.
Herrera’s apparent win gives national Republicans an extra seat for their new majority in the U.S. House. She replaces six-term Democratic Rep. Brian Baird, who chose to retire from the seat that serves the sprawling southwest Washington district.
“I’m humbled,” Herrera said after being notified by The Associated Press of Heck’s concession. “There’s a lot of work ahead. Right now I am very, very aware of the fact that this isn’t a big swing for Republicans. It’s a big swing against the current direction. I have two years to work for solutions. I have two years to put our country on the right track.”
She said it appeared voters were sending a message similar to what she heard in 2006 and 2008 – that they want a Congress that will listen to voter concerns about spending and health care. But she also believed the rising national debt was a factor.
Heck declined to answer questions, but his campaign put out a statement that thanked his supporters and said he had no regrets. His statement commended Herrera for a “well-run campaign” and wished her and her husband, Dan, “every success going forward.’’
The top issue in the campaign was job creation in a seven-county district plagued with the state’s highest unemployment, but federal spending was also hot. The race drew more than $4 million of independent expenditures that fed a stream of highly partisan television ads and brochures that kept landing in voters’ mailboxes, mostly attacking the rival candidate in the final weeks.
Heck, a former state lawmaker-turned-entrepreneur, brought a credible record of creating jobs as an investor and founder of businesses. He pledged to make job creation through tax incentives his top priority, and he advocated for higher investments in green or alternative energy innovations.
Herrera, a state lawmaker and former congressional aide to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, countered with a free-market agenda and openly criticized her party for failing to move that agenda in the past two decades when it had chances.
Herrera said she wanted to undo the Wall Street and health care reforms that Baird had supported and that Heck said he would have voted for. She also rejected the national Democrats’ efforts at an economic stimulus and accused them of spending recklessly.
Heck raised and spent nearly $1.7 million, including $350,000 of his own money, which helped him pull away from other Democratic challengers after he got in the race 11 months ago. Herrera, also a late entrant, raised $1.2 million and reported spending $792,390 as of Oct. 13.
But the biggest money in the race came from outside interests. Republican-aligned groups spent $2.3 million to support Herrera or oppose Heck, including $1.25 million from the National Republican Congressional Committee and $470,787 from the American Future Fund, $282,000 from Americans for Prosperity and $149,540 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Democrat-aligned groups spent just over $1.75 million to support Heck and oppose Herrera, almost all of it spent by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to the most recent compilations by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
Third-party ads paid for by Democrats attacked Herrera’s opposition to abortion rights and her wish to repeal the Roe v. Wade court ruling that made abortion legal nationally.
National Democrats also questioned her support for Social Security, trying to cash in on a debate gaffe in May when Herrera held up a sign indicating she supported letting younger adults invest their Social Security in private accounts – a position she said she actually opposed.
Republican ads and mailings dug into Heck’s past as a state lawmaker, harping on votes he took to raise taxes during a budget crisis of the early 1980s.