The most pressing issue in the race to fill Congressman Dave Reichert's seat in Washington State's 8th District isn't health care, it isn't immigration, and it isn't the environment. The most pressing issue is which one of the Democrats in the race can beat Dino Rossi in November.
With his money, his name recognition, and his "thousand-watt smile," Rossi will easily make it through Washington's top-two primary on August 7 and go on to the general election in the fall. But who among the three Democrats in the race can turn three-time loser Dino Rossi into four-time loser Dino Rossi? That's the question asked at every candidate forum, every meet and greet, and every event where political types gather.
Each of the three Democratic candidates gunning for the most flippable district in the state during the most important midterm election of our lives thinks they're the only one who can defeat Rossi.
Shannon Hader is the wonk from Auburn. She's managed big budgets as a public health doctor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which means she actually has some government experience. Democratic political nerds like her, and she polls decently, but her message would never fit on a hat. Kim Schrier is the doctor from Sammamish. Donald Trump's election and Reichert's vote for Trumpcare turned her from a pediatrician into pussy-hat politico. She's got big endorsements and alleged establishment support, but bad polling. Jason Rittereiser is the dude-lawyer from Ellensburg. He baled hay to pay for college, and he can't wait to tell you about it. He's got good polling, a few decent endorsements, and a law-and-order background.
The Cascade Mountains split Washington's 8th Congressional District in half, with bluer voters concentrated west of the mountains and redder voters out east. The liberal enclaves of Sammamish and Issaquah dominate the west, and the working-class manufacturing hub of Auburn anchors the southwest. However, East Pierce County is MAGA-hat red and appears to be getting redder all the time. Ditto the areas east of the mountains around Ellensburg, Wenatchee, and Chelan. A Republican of one sort or another has ruled over the 8th since its creation in 1980. In 2012, an appointed commission redrew the district to lean even more to the right. Still, voters in the 8th District have backed Democratic candidates in every election going back to the days of Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 3 points here. According to recent polling, a majority of 8th District voters dislike Trump, and 47 percent of them really dislike him. And independents in the district hate Trump almost as much as Democrats do. At the same time, 54 percent of 8th District residents think seven-term congressman Dave Reichert, a Republican rubber-stamp and former King County sheriff who announced his retirement this year, is doing an "excellent/good" job.
In this arena, all of the Democratic candidates have advantages and disadvantages, and the only people who claim to know which one will win also happen to be working for one of the candidates. One thing is all but certain: Dino Rossi will make it through the primary. He's the guy to beat.
So who's the Dem that can beat Rossi?
I would appoint Shannon Hader to represent Washington's 8th District if I could. Hader is the kind of person I dream of seeing in Congress. She does her homework. She does your homework. She does homework that hasn't been assigned yet. She appears to genuinely enjoy the prospect of solving problems in unsexy, bureaucratic ways that actually work with our unsexy, bureaucratic system. If you asked her to "fix Congress" on Friday, by Monday you'd have a five-point plan that promised clear deliverables on a reasonable timeline.
"I spent my career doing precision public health," she tells me on Memorial Day in her newly opened campaign office in Auburn. She goes on, talking like a person who's had to give a lot of PowerPoint presentations to a lot of skeptical people. "It's looking at a specific community at a specific time, listening to the community voice and what's needed, looking at the evidence and data about what might work, and then crafting solutions for what might work in the short term and in the future, and not for the past or for some other community."
In her 8 years of working for the Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, Hader worked most closely with the HIV/AIDS community. As a high-level manager for the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), she's table-pounding proud of the "successful, bipartisan program that's still running today."
Sitting in a spare room of her sparsely decorated office (she'd moved in only the day before), Hader looks relaxed in her door-knocking Nikes and her black-on-black athleisure wear. But my question about her past success seems to both animate and exasperate her, as if knowing about her work with PEPFAR would convince everyone that she should be in Congress.
"We got two reauthorizations, more money than the original proposal, and bicameral, bipartisan, unanimous consent each time," she says, literally pounding the table between the last six words.
And at this point, I am kind of convinced. Suddenly I'm getting excited about the success of a massive government program I know little about, but that resulted in "nearly two million babies" being born HIV-free.
Hader describes a three-step approach as the secret formula for achieving the level of bipartisan success she was able to achieve while working at the CDC during the presidencies of Clinton, Bush, Obama, and even Trump.
"Number one: Start with a goal everyone can all agree on. Number two: Do not require purity of motive. Number three: It's got to be highly transparent and highly accountable," Hader says. "People could see what the money was buying, and that kept PEPFAR going as a bipartisan thing."
Hader mentions temporary worker visas and health care, both issues that voters in the 8th District care about, as examples of areas where her approach could bring results. Hader also cautions against any kind of "one-size-fits-all" policymaking, especially in the 8th District. She points to homelessness as a prime example, describing in great detail the differences between housing needs in Issaquah, Auburn, and Wenatchee.
Hader uses phrases like "voice at the table" and "wire in flexibility" during our conversations, political clichés that every other politician has uttered. But with Hader I get the sense that she loathes using this language, loathes having to cut her complicated proposals down to sound bites, loathes having to look at me and say, "I support healthy, wealthy, and wise communities," knowing that's the sort of singsongy thing that politicians have to say to get quoted.
But it's not just her thorough, innovative answers that impress me. When she talks policy, she pushes for the progressive view, but many of her arguments fit into a framework conservatives might support. She also has realistic expectations about what kinds of powers she'll possess as a "baby congressperson," as she put it.
"It's very routine for newbies to talk about legislation and only legislation, but there are other tools you can wield," she says, mentioning oversight, appropriations, convening ability, and constituency services. Given her experience managing a big budget and a large staff at the CDC, I see her using these back-of-the-House tools most effectively.
I'm not the only one who's impressed. Democrats are leaving endorsement meetings with Hader feeling downright giddy. "Hader's interview was an experience," says King County Democrats endorsement committee cochair Patrick Allcorn. "It could have lasted 10 hours, and I would've never been bored and she would've never been stumped. It was incredibly impressive."
Democrats in the 41st Legislative District—the district where Kim Schrier has worked and resided for 16 years—handed Hader their sole endorsement and called her "the candidate best positioned to defeat three-time loser Dino Rossi." All told, Hader has completely swept the legislative district clubs. She's received co-endorsements from the Kittitas Democrats and the 5th District Democrats. But every other legislative district in the congressional district gave Hader its sole endorsement.
There's not much money in these endorsements—George Soros typically doesn't throw money at candidates who wowed the 41st Legislative District—but organizers on the legislative district level tend to be political realists who know their districts. "We will have booths at the summer festivals, and our [precinct committee officers] will be distributing Hader literature door-to-door in our districts," says Aaron Schuler, district chair of the 47th District Democrats. If one of the other candidates comes in with a massive TV ad buy that blows the other ones out of the water, a door-to-door campaign can only do so much. But in a narrow race, Schuler says, that kind of canvasing activity can make the difference.
Hader does well with these groups because she's a nerd with an impressive résumé full of government experience. Like a lot of them, she's dogged but peppy. When she tells me she was a cheerleader for Auburn High School and that she graduated when she was 16, it makes complete sense.
But does she have a shot?
She does—if she can get past the primary. An independent poll from the House Majority PAC, which is associated with Nancy Pelosi, shows Hader tying Rossi in a head-to-head matchup after respondents read neutral profiles and negative messaging about both candidates. And Dino Rossi, the person she'd most likely face in the general, has a hard time beating women candidates, as others in the race have mentioned. Rossi lost to Christine Gregoire twice (in 2004 and 2008) and Patty Murray once (in 2010).
But Hader may not get past the primary. That same House Majority PAC poll shows her Democratic opponent Kim Schrier with a six-point lead on Hader in the primary and a 13-point lead among Democratic voters in particular. (Margin of error: 3.5 percent.) Democrats aren't the only people who will be voting in the primary, but hyper-activated Democrats seem most likely to rush the polls on August 7, and in mid-April, at least, those Democrats seemed to prefer Schrier—or perhaps Schrier's was the name they knew.
Another sign of Hader's weakness? According to receipts from the Federal Election Commission, last quarter Hader pulled in only 44 in-district donations. Rittereiser's haul that quarter was approximately 420, and Schrier brought in approximately 440. Rossi boasts 900 in-district donations, but the Democrats are splitting donations three ways. Taken together, Democratic donations match Republican donations, which is slightly encouraging. Regardless, while Hader fires up the members of Democratic clubs, she has yet to fire up many voters in her district—or at least the part of the electorate inclined to donate to candidates. (For what it's worth: The candidates count more in-district donations that I do. Donations less than $200 aren't counted in my total, nor are donations through ActBlue, but the proportions work out to be the same.)
Maybe that's because Hader, who was born and raised in the district, has been traveling a lot since 1999. While she introduces herself as a fifth-generation "Auburn girl" on the campaign trail, the last time Hader was registered to vote in Washington State was during George W. Bush's presidency. ("She's been physically in and out of Auburn," Hader's spokesperson says, "even as it's been her true home base.") So while Hader might excite college-educated Seattle residents like me, when I put on my small-town hat—I'm from Belton, Missouri, population 23,000—Hader can seem like one of those kids who left for the big city, got a fancy education and a fancy job, and then came back to tell us all to quit chewing tobacco.
In response to the argument that Hader might be out of touch with the people of her district, Hader points to the east-of-the-mountain unions that have endorsed her—the Wenatchee Aluminum Trades Council, the North Central Washington Central Labor Council, and the United Steelworkers Local 310A—as a way to say she hasn't been too citified.
"Steelworkers aren't pushovers," Hader says.
Hader has five weeks to let the district know who she is—a fun-loving, unfussy "Auburn girl" who gets the job done—and even if she manages to get through the primary, she still faces a tough race.
On Memorial Day, Hader and I walk the incredibly clean sidewalks bordering the maniacally edged lawns of a south Auburn subdivision. Faded American flags wave lazily in their holsters. Guided by an app on her phone that shows us voter data, we approach a door. A woman answers and calls her husband down to meet the candidate. The couple had recently returned from church, and he's just swapped his Sunday best for dad-on-the-weekend clothes. He seems to appreciate how Hader speaks to him, how she introduces herself as the "Auburn girl," how she makes it a point to position herself as a listener, how she nods in approval at his criticism of the current "tone of the political conversation."
But when Hader says she'll be running against Dino Rossi in the general election, the dad stiffens and grimaces.
"Oh, Dino is a friend of the family," he says.
Hader's reply displays her quick wit: "Dino doesn't have to know you're voting for me," she says with a smile.
Kim Schrier is probably going to make it through the primary and face Dino Rossi in the fall.
She's lived in Issaquah for 16 years. She's a woman, and this is shaping up to be the Year of the Woman. She's a doctor, a pediatrician, and this is the year when health-care reform ranks as the major concern for voters in Washington's 8th Congressional District. The Democratic Party has instructed its candidates to run on it, and those who run on it have seen positive results. And Schrier will be the first to tell you that electing her would mean sending a female physician to Congress, a place that currently has zero female physicians.
She also projects—go figure—a warm and engaging personality. But for all her warmth, she has an edge and can throw an elbow. At a recent candidate forum, her opponent Jason Rittereiser dinged her clinical practice at Virginia Mason for not accepting certain forms of Medicaid. Schrier silently demanded the microphone and shut Rittereiser down: "I see kids from all backgrounds. I see kids on Medicaid, I see kids on Apple Health, and I don't look at insurance when they walk through the doors," she said.
As of March 31, Schrier has raised more money than her two Democratic rivals combined. She has more in-district donations than Hader and Rittereiser, too. National media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN, and Time, have asked her for comment on a range of issues. She's also scooped up big endorsements from EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood, Washington State Labor Council (a co-endorsement she shares with Rittereiser), and the machinists union. Donors, activists, and the other candidates say the state Democratic Party put its thumb on the scale early on to help Schrier bring in her money and endorsements, but Schrier and the party deny it.
Meanwhile, an independent poll from the House Majority PAC shows Schrier "kicking everybody's butt" in the primary, as she put it, but only among self-identified Democrats.
There's just one problem: The poll Schrier likes to cite when it comes to the primary also shows her losing to Republican Dino Rossi by five points in the general election. It's the same poll that shows Hader running neck-and-neck with Rossi in the general election. But after hearing only positive profiles of each of the candidates, Schrier is the only person whose numbers drop. The pediatrician from Sammamish goes down by one and loses to the commercial Realtor from Sammamish 44 to 54 at that point. So, perhaps most worryingly for Schrier, this poll also shows that the more people learn about her, the less they like her.
Or so says one poll—but sadly it makes intuitive sense. Schrier is a pediatrician from Sammamish. To people east of the mountains, that sounds like "rich white lady." And even some people west of the mountains are decidedly unimpressed with Schrier. In their endorsements, the King County Democrats called Schrier "a distant third" for them in the race.
Schrier dismisses the part of the poll that says she'll lose to Rossi. "The only part of polls that I really truly trust—unless it's for our own background messaging information—is the part about who people would vote for if the election were today, because that's the only part that's unbiased," she says.
Schrier also says the Washington State Association for Justice (the trial lawyers union) helped pay for the House Majority PAC poll. Rittereiser, who does best in the poll, is a former King County deputy prosecutor, and Schrier argues that the poll was biased in Rittereiser's favor. The poll didn't ask one question about health care, Schrier asserts, an issue that should help her with voters. But there's no way for Schrier to know if the pollsters asked about health care. Like everyone else, all she's seen is a strategy memo based on the poll. (GBA Strategies declined to comment when I asked if they included a question about health care in this poll.) And SEIU 775, the domestic health care workers union, also helped pay for the poll—and no one thinks domestic health care workers are biased in favor of trial lawyers.
One poll isn't going to make or break a campaign—and when I visit Schrier's campaign offices in mid-June, she seems to be firing on all cylinders. Her team has decked out the common areas of her office like an elementary-school classroom. A Pacific Northwest–themed "Canvas Goal Wall!" made from construction paper brightens one corner of a large meeting room, where a group of supporters, volunteers, and people just interested the race are gathering for a meet and greet.
A row of pink salmon indicates that her team has already knocked on 16,000 of the 48,000 doors they'd been targeting. Illustrations apparently drawn by children adorn another wall ("Kids Corner"), including one from Schrier's son, Sam, which reads, "Dino the Dinosaur He's Extinct!" The numbers 5 and 2 are scrawled in red on two big white sheets of paper—a running countdown to August 7, the day of the Washington State primary, then just fifty-two days away.
The day I visit, Schrier gives a pep talk to 40 or so mostly middle-aged and older women who are volunteering on her campaign. She stands before her audience and retells her origin story, the one she tells over and over, the one that lets people know who she is and why she got into this race. It begins, "The morning after the election..."
As she tells it, her young son walked downstairs and saw the faces of his two parents stunned after the news of Trump's victory. "Uh-oh, does this mean we have to move to another country now?" he asks. "No, no," Schrier says, as she lets the laughs die down. "You can't just jump ship when things get tough. You have to do something." She had no idea what that something would be, but she knew she had to set a good example for her son. "So what do I do?" Schrier asks. "I did what a lot of you did. I marched in the Women's March. I joined the resistance. And I called my congressman daily." Eventually she decided to run for Congress, spurred by her husband and by Reichert's vote to repeal Obamacare, which would have stripped tens of thousands of people in the 8th District of their health-care coverage.
While an Indivisible activist might see themselves in Schrier's story, an independent voter on the east side of the mountains who's flirting with voting for a Democrat this year might not want an Indivisible activist to represent them in Congress. Retiring congressman Dave Reichert remains extremely popular in the district, after all. According to the House Majority PAC poll, which was conducted in mid-April, 54 percent of respondents believed he was doing "an excellent job" as a rubber-stamp Trump Republican who occasionally sponsored a land conservation bill.
There are rumors that Schrier believes she can win with votes from the western parts of the district—rumors she dismisses.
"We need to get votes everywhere in the district," she says. "I've got to get a lot of votes in the eastern part of the district, in Pierce County—I've got to get the votes everywhere. Do I think a lot of suburban moms from Issaquah and Sammamish are going to show up? Yeah. Am I going to run a campaign that depends only on that? No way! That's how people have lost. Why would I repeat a losing plan?"
Schrier has made an effort to speak to voters in the eastern part of the district, and she's found some support out east, too. The Kittitas County Democrats endorsed her, but they also endorsed Rittereiser and Hader, so it doesn't really count. But Mary Morgan, a city council member from Ellensburg, gave Schrier her solo endorsement.
Morgan, who "is not registered as a Democrat and never has been," told me over the phone that she endorsed Schrier because she's believable. "I like her brevity and her conciseness," Morgan said. "And I appreciate the fact that when she doesn't know an answer or doesn't know a topic well, she says so. Then she gets an answer and she gets back to you."
But what Morgan calls "studious," others might call "not too terribly informed on all the issues affecting the east." Schrier more or less cops to this. "There are things in that part of the district [the east] that aren't as familiar to me as things are in this part of the district [the west], but the strategy is the same," Schrier says. "It's go, listen, learn, and be the best possible representative for those concerns."
Speaking of concerns: One of Schrier's answers at a forum earlier this year definitely raised some. Organizers of a candidate forum in Sammamish gave the three Democratic candidates red, green, and yellow signs to indicate their disagreement, agreement, or uncertainty with regard to a series of brief statements asked by the moderator. Schrier held up a red flag to indicate her opposition to the phrase "The government should require children to be vaccinated for preventable diseases."
Shortly after the candidate forum, I asked Schrier via e-mail why she opposed requiring vaccinations. "Let me be crystal clear: I believe that every child should be vaccinated," Schrier wrote in reply. "The question asked at Saturday's forum was not at all clear in terms of its intent. Vaccinations should be required to attend preschool and elementary school, in line with our policy here in Washington State."
Because Washington is one of 18 states where parents can elect not to vaccinate their kids, and because I still had questions about Schrier's red sign (there was a yellow sign she could have thrown up if she was uncertain), and because in 2008 a person named VeronikaW posted to an internet forum saying, "We met with Dr. Schrier before Ian was born, and while she said she was pro-vax, she said she wouldn't hassle us about our decision," I asked about the vaccination thing again when I meet with Schrier in June.
"My recollection is that the question was very precisely worded in a way that seemed incredibly punitive and conveyed a lot more than what the [American Academy of Pediatrics] would support. And so I felt the question was misleading," she says. "I probably should have taken the time afterward to explain where I stand. Because the fact of the matter is, I want every child vaccinated with everything according to the CDC and the AAP and the ACIP, and I want them done on time."
Schrier felt the question was misleading, she explains, because not every child needs every vaccine that exists in the world—an answer that seemed less like something you would hear from a concerned pediatrician and more like something you would hear from a slippery politician.
This race is less likely to bog down on issues of vaccination—or vacillation—than it is on biography. Schrier presents herself as a member of the #resistance, and the only independent poll done in this deeply purple district shows her doing worse with the independents she must win over if Democrats are going to flip this seat. And Democrats have run candidates from the west side of the mountains over and over: Karen Porterfield. Jason Ritchie. Tony Ventrella. They've lost every single time.
Maybe they should try running someone from the east side?
There's a Trump voter sitting in the front row of Jason Rittereiser's "Listen & Learn" health-care forum in Auburn. Her name is Sharon. She's got curly blonde hair, a smoky voice, and an arm in a sling. She works with horses down in Enumclaw, and she recently fell off of one and broke her arm in a way that didn't require surgery. She says the medical bill came to $4,000, which was nowhere near as high as it could have been, but her $3,000 deductible made it nearly impossible to afford anyway.
"I have insurance, but I have such a high deductible. If I make one mistake—"
The Trump voter can't even finish the sentence. She's pissed. She's anxious. She's sad. She demands that all hospitals include urgent care facilities, and she wants to know what Rittereiser thinks of that idea. Instead of launching into a long explainer about why her suggestion might be difficult to implement, he looks her in the eyes and says he'll "put that solution on the table" when he gets to Congress.
By that point in the forum, Rittereiser had said some version of "I'm going to fight for you in Congress" and slammed the "status quo" in Washington, DC, nearly one hundred million times. When he hauled in the metaphorical table, I rolled my eyes. With his freshly shaven face, close-crop haircut, wrinkle-free shirt, and modest khakis, Rittereiser looked and sounded to me like a parody of a politician. But Sharon, the conservative who voted for Trump because he was "the lesser of two evils," took a different view.
"I really feel like right now [Rittereiser] is the most non-politician I've heard," she tells me after the forum. "I don't like those canned little snippet taglines, that stump speech kind of stuff, and he doesn't do that." She tells me she feels like Rittereiser really heard her.
If a Democrat is going to beat Dino Rossi in the 8th District, they're going to need to win over voters like Sharon. Though the western part of the district may be getting bluer, the south and the east may be getting redder. No one is 100 percent sure how the demographic changes in the district will affect this race, but the candidates are 100 percent sure—at this point, at least—that they need to appeal to the more conservative areas if they want to win.
Sitting in a sunny Pioneer Square cafe a few weeks after the health-care forum, Rittereiser lays out the situation bluntly. I mentioned the Blue Wave some analysts and activists hope will sweep Democrats into Congress this year. Now he is the one rolling his eyes.
"You talk about a wave election," he says. "This district was created in 1980 and has been insulated from political waves every single year. No Democrat has ever won this district, and there have been Democratic waves in the past. The idea that this district trends with the national political scene is just not true."
As a former King County deputy prosecutor with roots east of the mountains, Rittereiser believes his narrative is compelling enough to make him the first Democrat elected to the seat since its inception.
Temperamentally, at least, Rittereiser might be right.
If there's some question about Kim Schrier seeming too much like a Seattle liberal and Shannon Hader smelling too much of Washington, DC, there's no question Jason Rittereiser is from Ellensburg.
Though he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, though he went to law school in Chicago, and though he worked for a Seattle-based law firm, he comports himself with the normcore masculinity of the kind of suburban Seahawks fan who attends the Ellensburg Rodeo every year—which he does. He's quick to tell you that his dad was a cop and his mom was a schoolteacher. And he never fails to mention his experience baling hay to pay for college. In his latest campaign video, he stands in a hayfield listening to the concerns of actors who volunteered to look like farmers. The goal is to make you forget Rittereiser is a Seattle lawyer, and it's clearly working.
More than anything, Rittereiser wants this job. His thirst for the position makes sense. He's a millennial, and the only thing millennials want more than a job is another job. He turned 34 this year, which makes him an elderly millennial. Schrier and Hader are both 49 years old, and so they have more experience than he does, but his demographic allows him to fashion himself as a member of "the next generation of leaders in Congress." He's a Jason Kander type. A Joe Kennedy III type. He called Conor Lamb "my buddy" at the health-care forum.
Rittereiser has been especially energetic lately following the release of the House Majority PAC poll.
You remember that poll, right? It's the one and only poll done in the race, it's the one and only poll that keeps coming up, it's the poll that shows Schrier winning the primary but losing the election? Well, that same poll shows Rittereiser as the only Democratic candidate who beats Rossi in a head-to-head matchup. Hader ties with Rossi in the general election, and all these wins/losses fall within the margin of error, which suggests that everyone has a chance to beat Rossi. But the poll—the one and only poll—shows Rittereiser doing well among independents, and particularly among independent women, and that could be crucial. And unlike Schrier, the poll found that the more independent or swing voters get to know Rittereiser, the more they like him.
These are the Sharons that Rittereiser needs to win.
The irony is that Rittereiser holds one of the most progressive views in the race. Rittereiser is the only person running who fully and unreservedly backs HR 676, the House's version of Senator Bernie Sanders's Medicare for All bill.
"My brand of Democratic politics harks back to a time when we actually fought for working people," Rittereiser says when I ask him about the philosophy that drives his politics. "My grandfather used to say, if you carried a lunch pail to work, you were a Democrat. We've lost a big contingent of those people who carry a lunch pail to work. And I think it's because we've forgotten that Democrats must be the party that fights for working-class people, that fights for people struggling to get into the middle class, that fights for equality and justice and all those things we should aspire to."
You can see him trying to put that philosophy into practice during the course of the campaign. In late June, he convinced his law firm, HKM Employment Attorneys, to provide pro bono legal assistance for federal employees who don't want to carry out Trump's draconian immigration policies. Rachel Maddow amplified his message by interviewing him on her show.
Though the offer of free legal help for federal employees was one of Rittereiser's good lawyer-y ideas, sometimes his prosecutorial background becomes a liability. To the extent that anyone has "gone negative" in the campaign, Rittereiser was the first to do so. He's accused Schrier of "attempting to mislead voters" by publishing partial results of an internal poll showing her way ahead of the other Democrats in the primary "among 173 self-identified Democrats," which she kind of did. But he also slammed her for working at a hospital that doesn't take certain forms of Medicaid—something she has no control over.
Two people at Rittereiser's health-care forum told me they didn't like seeing Rittereiser go after Schrier the way he did. They saw it as going negative, and they're worried about the appearance of infighting of any kind. Robin MacNofsky, a precinct committee officer in the 31st Legislative District, said, "Please, oh please, as Democrats, let's not attack each other."
But Rittereiser doesn't see his attacks as negative. "I think that in any race, in particular in races for Congress, we are picking 435 people in the United States to go to the House of Representatives and represent America," he said. "The idea that we shouldn't have a rigorous debate about who's qualified to do that... is absurd to me. We need a return of civilities not to US politics, but to governing."
It is time to mention the white male elephant in the room. Rittereiser is a white guy and a lawyer running against two white women who work in health-care fields in this, the Year of the Woman. Writing for the Cook Political Report, David Wasserman argues that women have been dominating the Democratic primaries, benefitting from a 15 percent advantage due to their gender. As much as Rittereiser wants to be a congressman, Democrats want to elect congresswomen. Moreover, we have plenty of white male lawyers in Washington, DC. Should one of the bluest states in the country really be sending another one to the House? And as Hader and Schrier like to point out, Dino Rossi's favorite thing to do is lose statewide races to women.
Wouldn't not backing a woman in this primary amount to political malpractice?
Rittereiser obviously doesn't think so. "I don't buy the notion that we should pick representatives based on gender, or based on race, or based on anything other than that individual's experience, background, qualifications, and whether or not they can win. If we start picking people based on intangibles they have no control over, that's a recipe for disaster in Congress," he says.
But of course he would say that. However, as he mentioned earlier, Washington's 8th District is extremely weird and particular, and it's not at all clear if it will follow national trends. And while it's true that Rossi loves to lose to women, those were statewide losses. Fact is, the last time Rossi lost to a woman in the 8th District was when he lost a state senate race to Kathleen Drew in 1992. He won the 8th by roughly 10 points when he ran against Senator Murray in 2010. In his second gubernatorial race in 2008, he beat Gregoire by roughly 6,000 votes in the district. And he almost won his first governor's race against Gregoire—the final tally came down to a difference of 133 votes. None of this is to say a woman couldn't beat Rossi handily in the 8th, but he doesn't seem to be particularly vulnerable to a candidate just because she's a woman.
While electing more women to Congress is extremely important for liberals in blue districts—progressives in safe blue districts are backing women all over the country—electing more women isn't a rallying cry among conservatives and independents in the 8th District.
"Gender means nothing to me" said Mark from Ravensdale, who I met at Kim Schrier's meet and greet. His wife, Julianna, nodded along to that sentiment. He describes himself as an independent, and she describes herself as a Democrat. "I know not everyone would agree," Mark continued, "but I'm a humanist. I just want the person who's going to reflect the values I was taught as a kid—that we should care for each other."
The poll—that one fucking poll—seems to confirm Mark's sentiment. Rittereiser's numbers among independents go up significantly, particularly among independent women, after they read positive and negative profiles of him. Unlike Schrier, the more voters get to know Rittereiser, the more they like him.
According. To. One. Poll.
But if Rittereiser doesn't take too much heat in the district for being a white guy in the Year of the Woman, he might take some heat for being inexperienced. Though he cites his "experience" with legislation as a lawyer, and though he sits on Governor Jay Inslee's State Advisory Council on Homelessness, Rittereiser's experience in politics begins and ends as a ground-level campaign staffer working on Representative Rick Larsen's 2005–06 reelection, a job he got just out of college.
In an interview with the Seattle Times, Dino Rossi expresses no small amount of glee at the prospect of running against a Democrat who hasn't been elected for anything in their entire life. (In response, Rittereiser said: "If he thinks because he's been appointed as a state senator recently, because he's run statewide three times and lost, if he thinks that equates to experience—I think it's going to be a tough argument to make.")
Though sending a white male attorney to Congress is nothing new, sending a Democrat from the east side of the mountains would be. Rittereiser is the law-and-order guy from Ellensburg who polls well with independent and Democratic women in the district. He's the only Democrat from the east side who's run for the seat. Ever. And since Democrats will put all their money and energy behind whichever Democratic candidate emerges from the primary, it makes sense to bet on the guy with connections in the region where they've struggled to get votes. It makes sense, that is, if he can make it through the primary.
He's not too far behind Schrier in terms of fundraising, but he's well behind her and Hader in terms of name recognition. In every poll—that fucking poll I keep mentioning, and in an internal poll released by Schrier—Rittereiser trails everybody in initial votes. Rittereiser seems like the candidate who can win, but only if everyone in the 8th District finds out about him in the next five weeks.