Back in 2000, with Republicans clinging to a slim Congressional majority, Democrats and Republicans spent a combined $2.6 million in Washington's hotly contested Second Congressional District (Everett, Bellingham, and all points north). This year (with the Republicans still holding an iffy 221-212 majority in the U.S. House of Representatives), three Republicans are battling for the chance to take on incumbent freshman Democrat Rick Larsen in November, hoping national Republicans will once again pour resources into the race.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Kim Rubey says her party is "optimistic" about the race. She cited Larsen's committee assignments on Agriculture, Armed Services, and Transportation as big advantages in the Second District. Translation: The Democrats knew Larsen, a self-described "moderate new Democrat," would be facing a tough battle, and did everything they could to take care of him with plum assignments.

Republicans still believe the Second District seat--which encompasses most of Everett, and includes the San Juan Islands--is up for grabs. One hopeful is Kelly Barlean, a Washington state representative (R-10th) from Langley, who is touting his Air Force Academy service. Barlean has also taken shots at Larsen's record, denouncing Larsen's vote against presidential fast-track trade authority.

The favorite candidate of the Pentagon crowd may be former CIA analyst Herb Meyer. Meyer has been endorsed by former Secretary of Defense Casper "Cap" Weinberger, and got a plug from conservative New York Times columnist William Safire.

Right-wing endorsements notwithstanding, many Republicans believe their strongest candidate is former South Whidbey School Board president Norma Smith, who once worked for State Representative Jack Metcalf, a Republican iconoclast (i.e., against gun control, for campaign finance reform) elected in 1994's GOP sweep.

Larsen is taking nothing for granted. He's already raised over $500,000, more than any of prospective challenges.