8th District race tied to GOP's backward momentum

TACOMA - Republicans are in danger of losing control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 7, their brief September hopes for a surge of momentum burst by a barrage of bad news.

Republicans are on the defensive over Iraq, the Mark Foley House page scandal and nationwide angst about the country's direction, according to reports from key House races and interviews with independent analysts in Washington and battleground districts.

Republicans still hope that the perks of power - money and district boundaries drawn to protect incumbents - will shield them. But less than a month before Election Day, the Democrats appear poised to take the House, and with it gain the strength to stymie President Bush's agenda and the subpoena power to make him spend his last two years in office defending his first six.

Two independent analysts predicted last week that the Democrats will pick up at least the 15 seats they need to seize the House for the first time since 1994.

"The broad national environment has improved for Democrats," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. He forecasts Democratic gains of at least 15 seats and possibly as many as 25 to 30, up from his earlier range of 15 to 20.

In Washington state, the national political climate is a major factor in the race for Washington's 8th District seat.

On paper, it's two-term Republican Rep. Dave Reichert vs. Democrat Darcy Burner. In the political world, it's Reichert vs. the Iraq War and Bush's low approval ratings - and the Democratic line that's he too close to Bush.

"If he loses, it's got nothing to do with Dave Reichert," said Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University political science professor.

Democrats paint Reichert as an unquestioning party loyalist. One campaign mailing shows Reichert next to Bush under a headline that calls him "Rubber Stamp Reichert."

Reichert called the ad "comical" and said he doesn't agree with Bush and other top Republicans on every issue.

"I'm Dave Reichert. I'm different. I'm my own man," he said.

He cited his vote against drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. He also voted to hold manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE liable when fuel leaked from underground tanks and seeped into groundwater.

Republicans portray Burner, a former Microsoft manager, as inexperienced.

A state Republican Web site parodies Burner's "Resume and Qualifications" with nothing listed under three categories, including "Elected Positions I've Held."

"I have 35 years (of) public service," Reichert said. "She has zero."