Baird Lucks Out

U.S. Representative Brian Baird (D-Olympia) and Congressional Democrats got a huge break last week when Republican Trent Matson announced he was dropping out of the race to challenge Baird in the state's Third Congressional District.

The Olympia district rematch between Baird and Matson, a lobbyist for the building industry, was expected to be one of the most closely watched and expensive House races in the country this year. Matson cited the birth of his son earlier this year as his reason for leaving the race.

"It is with saddened heart and a clear conscience today Laura, Reagan, and I are here to announce that I will not be a candidate for the Third District's U.S. Congressional race in 2002," Matson said in a statement last week. (Yes, that newborn would be named Reagan. As in Ronald.) "We are convinced this campaign is on the threshold of success. It is very difficult to step aside from the overwhelming support we are seeing nationally and locally at the risk of disappointing so many people."

Democrats, meanwhile, were anything but disappointed. In fact, they could not control their glee. "Matson bails!" a Democratic press release declared. "Republicans will pay the price of a top recruit leaving them high and dry in a competitive district," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Kim Rubey.

Matson lost to Baird by 15 percentage points in 2000, but this year was supposed to be different. Redistricting has made the Third District a bit more conservative, and Baird, a professor by training, had shown a disdain for raising the money needed to keep pace in a competitive district. Baird's aversion to shaking the money tree had irked, and worried, many Democrats in Washington who are desperately trying to retake control of the House in November.

Matson touted himself as the "National Republican Congressional Committee's top challenger in the entire United States." While that may have been a stretch, he was certainly up there. House Majority Leader Dick Armey came to the state last month to raise money for Matson's campaign, helping Matson keep pace with Baird in the all-important fundraising primary. Matson had raised more than $380,000 to Baird's $443,000.

Now Republicans must scramble to find a replacement to step in before the July 26 filing deadline. Republican sources on the Hill say they are focusing on two candidates--Rob Nichols, a former communications director for Representative Jennifer Dunn (R-Bellevue), Senator Slade Gorton, and State Senator Joe Zarelli, the ranking member of the Senate budget committee in Olympia. State Representative Richard DeBolt has also expressed interest in the race.