Olympia Democrat Denny Heck led Republican establishment candidate Jaime Herrera by a whisker in early vote returns late Tuesday in the nationally watched 3rd Congressional District race.
The results mean that, come the general election Nov. 2, Heck, the insider politician-turned-entrepreneur, will face Herrera, the state representative who got into the race with support from her political mentor and former boss, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Heck said. “I feel good about being in first place at least for the time being. We think these numbers are going to change over the next day or two.” Heck added his goal was to qualify for November, and he’s done that.
“It looks pretty darn good,” Herrera said. “Denny Heck and I are neck and neck, and I’m going to be in the top two.”
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The seat became competitive last December after six-term U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat, announced he would retire.
Herrera’s strong performance showed Democrats face a tough fight to hold onto the swing-district seat.
National Republicans say Baird’s seat is a target, but they have not said if it’s one of the 40 they need to win to recapture power in the U.S. House in November.
8TH DISTRICT SENATE
In other Congressional races Tuesday, 8th District incumbent Dave Reichert scored a decisive primary victory in a crowded nine-candidate field, but the three-term Auburn Republican failed to garner more than half the votes.
Reichert, 59, will face first-time candidate and former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene, 48, in November. The Medina Democrat ran well behind Reichert Tuesday but also easily advanced.
“These results indicate people want to see change,” DelBene said Tuesday. “This is a statement that people are not happy with the job he’s doing.”
A campaign spokesman for Reichert said the former King County sheriff was upbeat about his showing, but was at home with family and unavailable for comment Tuesday.
“We’re happy that it looks like the voters want Dave to run in the general election,” spokesman Darren Littell said. “Primary elections are tough to use as indicators in this state.”
Considered one of the few swing districts in Western Washington, the 8th District, spanning eastern King and Pierce counties, has always sent Republicans to the U.S. House. But its voters have supported Democrats in other key races.
Already, both candidates are nearing the $2 million mark in fundraising in what promises to be another hard-fought and expensive contest for the fickle district.
Seven other candidates in the race ran well behind the two frontrunners.
9TH DISTRICT HOUSE
In the 9th District House race, eight-term Representative Adam Smith advanced easily, garnering more than half the votes among four candidates.
Smith, 45, a Tacoma Democrat, will face Richard “Dick” Muri, 56, of Steilacoom, in the general election.
Muri, a Republican Pierce County councilman, ran a distant second Tuesday but remained upbeat about his chances come November.
“We’re right on the cusp of where we wanted to be to still have a race in November,” Muri said. “My job now is to take my case to King County.”
This is Muri’s second campaign against Smith. He won 38 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful bid in 2008.
The 9th District is home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and includes Puyallup, Federal Way and parts of Tacoma and Steilacoom.
6TH DISTRICT HOUSE
And in the 6th District, longtime Congressman Norm Dicks coasted through the primary with well over half the vote. Dicks will once again face Gig Harbor attorney Doug Cloud in November.
Dicks, 69, a Belfair Democrat who has served in Congress since 1976, held a double-digit advantage over Cloud, the primary’s runner-up. Dicks’ sizeable victory in the three-candidate field and a huge advantage in fundraising appear to bode well for his general election chances.
Still, Cloud, in his fourth Congressional run, remained confident Tuesday.
“I can guarantee you, Norm Dicks is in trouble,” Cloud said. “He had to dump a lot of money into this race over the last two weeks just to keep his head above water.”
Cloud will seek to tap into prevailing anti-incumbent sentiment to overcome the entrenched Congressman, who ranks in the top 20 on the House seniority list.
Earmarks already have become a central theme in the race, with Cloud criticizing Dicks’ pork prowess as wasteful, while Dicks defends his securing of such appropriations as worthwhile for home district projects.