Would-be successors to Baird line up

The race to fill U.S. Rep. Brian Baird's seat resembled a gold rush Thursday, a day after Baird announced he wouldn't seek re-election after six terms in office.

Democratic state Rep. Deb Wallace staked the first claim, and Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams of Olympia said he is thinking about getting in, too.

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said two other Vancouver Democrats, Rep. Jim Moeller and Sen. Craig Pridemore, are exploring the idea, along with Clark County Commissioner Scott Stuart. Democratic state Sen. Brian Hatfield of Raymond told The Daily News in Longview that he also is exploring the idea.

“I’m definitely keeping my options open. I’m going to talk over the possibilities with my family, friends, supporters, stakeholder groups,” said Williams, who already had planned to give up his legislative seat in 2010. “I’d still like to talk to Brian (Baird) himself. … I sort of think that we need to take a moment to appreciate his service before we immediately indulge in everyone’s political ambition here.”

Williams said he wants to see what Moeller and Pridemore do before getting in the race. He said voters need a progressive option on the ballot, something he would offer. Wallace said she would work across the aisle to keep government living within its means.

Republicans also are diving in with both feet. Republican state Rep. Jaime Herrera of Ridgefield said she is considering a run and will announce her decision next week. Three other GOP candidates already were in the race – David Castillo of Olympia, Jon Russell of Washougal and war veteran David William Hedrick – and Republicans outside Washington speculated that a few others might join the race.

Herrera is a former legislative aide to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and could be helped by her connections. Williams and Pelz both regarded her as the Republican favorite among the candidates, if she enters the race.

The 3rd District covers most of Southwest Washington, from Olympia to Vancouver and from the Cascades to the ocean. Baird replaced a Republican, Linda Smith, who briefly broke a long skein of Democratic wins in the mid-1990s. President Bush carried the district in 2000 and 2004, but President Obama carried it easily in 2008.

National Republican Congressional Committee regional spokeswoman Joanna Burgos and state GOP leader Luke Esser said Baird’s departure boosts their party’s chances of gaining seats, but Democrat Pelz said he expects to have a strong candidate who can repel the GOP assault. Democrats hold six of the state’s nine House positions, and Baird has not been seriously challenged since he first won in 1998.

Burgos said political analysts at both the Cook Political Report and CQ Politics switched their rating on the 3rd from likely Democratic to toss-up. Esser said the economic situation has changed the equation for voters.

Wallace released an announcement that said, in part: “Our country faces some of its greatest challenges it has ever encountered and we are in the toughest economic climate I have seen in my generation. Now is the time for leaders in Washington, D.C, who are ready to roll up their sleeves, reach across party lines and tackle these challenges head on. ... Reaching across the aisle, never shying from a tough fight and focusing on the needs of my constituents have been the hallmark of my time in Olympia and I am ready and excited to take that record to Washington, D.C.”

Wallace touted her efforts to get state money for Southwest Washington transportation projects and said she is a former Downtown Vancouver Association president. She said “government should live within its means, just like our families do, and I will bring that same approach to Congress.”

The NRCC’s Burgos released a statement about Wallace, saying: “Brian Baird’s retirement has created for Republicans an excellent pick-up opportunity in a district where independent-minded voters are growing increasingly uncomfortable with the higher taxes being imposed upon them and the larger role that government is playing in their lives.

Especially with a candidate like Deb Wallace who will be just another tax-hiking, job-killing Democrat, Southwest Washington voters will feel alienated by the Democrat party and be drawn to the Republican platform of smaller government, fiscal responsibility and lower taxes.”

Williams has been a prolific fundraiser in the Legislature and might be most able to raise funds quickly for a race. Ever willing to take on House Democratic leaders over issues, he said he is considering a run because he wants the district to have someone to represent working families.

Castillo, who works as a financial adviser in Olympia and had been a Bush-era appointee to high positions in two federal agencies, has been most active of all the candidates opposing Baird. He had raised nearly $54,000 through September, an amount dwarfed by the $622,098 Baird’s campaign had in the bank.

Castillo had been trying to contrast his positions with those of Baird through regular media releases, and he amassed GOP endorsements – including those of Attorney General Rob McKenna, ex-AG Ken Eikenberry and a slew of local legislators.

Castillo released a statement thanking Baird for his service, but he also said it doesn’t change the focus of his campaign – on “job creation, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and national security.”

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688