Norm Dicks’ political base is in Tacoma, his home is across the Narrows bridges in Belfair, and his district stretches across the Olympic Peninsula and as far down the coast as Ocean Shores.
Whoever replaces him will need to appeal to people across those far-flung locations, in a district that was drawn to favor Democrats but not overwhelmingly so. Voters placed in the 6th Congressional District this year by redistricting supported both Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sen. Patty Murray by 53-47 margins in the two Democrats’ most recent re-election bids.
At least three Republicans were already running against Dicks, and party strategists will be trying to recruit more well-known candidates now that the field is wide open.
The Democrat whom insiders mentioned most prominently Friday to replace Dicks: state Sen. Derek Kilmer, the No. 2 Democrat on the Senate’s budget committee and a Pierce County economic development official.
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Kilmer said he’s “seriously considering” running and praised Dicks: “My daughters are growing up in a better community because of what Norm Dicks has done. He may be the best congressman our state has ever had.”
Kilmer was raised on the Olympic Peninsula and educated at Princeton University and the University of Oxford. He lives in Gig Harbor and has served in the Legislature since 2005.
Two more conservative state senators, Tim Sheldon and Jim Hargrove, are also eyeing the seat. Unlike Kilmer, who is in the middle of his term, either would have to choose between running for re-election and for Congress.
Hargrove of Hoquaim chairs the Senate human services committee and helps shape spending on corrections and social programs. Sheldon, a maverick from Potlatch who often votes with Republicans, is also a Mason County commissioner. He said he will be looking over the demographics of the new district. “I’ll leave the door open,” he said.
Among other Democrats, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said they have heard from people asking if they would run, and neither ruled it out, though both said they love their current jobs. Strickland said it’s “something I will take into consideration.”
Retiring state auditor Brian Sonntag said the seat is “certainly worth looking at.” One problem: though Sonntag says he hasn’t looked at the new district lines, his home in University Place may be just over the border in the 10th Congressional District. Members of Congress don’t have to live in their districts, but it can be politically helpful.
Democrats are confident they will keep the seat. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, noted that Dicks represents “a strong Democratic district” that Obama carried with 58 percent of the vote in 2008.
“We look forward to electing a Democrat next November who will create jobs, protect the middle class and the Medicare guarantee for Washington state seniors,” Israel said.
Still, Republicans are hopeful. They say the district leans slightly less to the Democrats than it did before redistricting.
“With Norm being such a powerful incumbent, long-term incumbent, there was going to be no change as long as he was there,” state GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur said. “Now that he’s gone, it could be a potential pick up for us.”
The two Republicans from Gig Harbor who challenged Dicks last year, attorney Doug Cloud and business technology consultant Jesse Young of Gig Harbor, will try again and are joined by Bob Sauerwein of Port Orchard, who says on his website that he works in the insurance industry.
Jesse Young released a statement thanking Dicks for his service and saying he wants to “share my vision for how we can position ourselves to be at the forefront of economic recovery and prosperity.”
Republicans will be looking for an experienced candidate. Either of the two GOP Pierce County Council members vying for the new 10th district seat, Dick Muri and Stan Flemming, could shift to the new district, but both campaigns said Friday they planned to stay put.
Other potential candidates mentioned Friday include state Rep. Jan Angel of Port Orchard, but she demurred, saying she hasn’t yet had time to think about running. She’s busy at the Legislature, said Angel, who was a real estate agent and Kitsap County commissioner before her election to the House in 2008.
Job openings in Dicks’ district are a rarity. He is only the fifth congressman from Washington state’s 6th district, created by redistricting after the 1930 census.
Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed said candidates can begin filing May 14. A primary will take place Aug. 7, with the two highest vote-getters advancing to the Nov. 6 general election.
Staff writers Rob Hotakainen and Kathleen Cooper contributed to this report.