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A Barnburner of a Race Could Topple Reichert

Both national parties have put the hotly contested race for Washington state’s 8th district seat on the front burner.

Recent polls show that Democratic challenger Darcy Burner is either tied or running ahead of Rep. Dave Reichert, a two-term Republican who is perhaps best known as a former law enforcement official who helped lead a task force to hunt down a serial murderer known as the Green River Killer.

In the final days of this highly competitive race — a rematch from 2006 — both campaigns have sharpened their attacks, with Burner’s camp filing a Federal Election Commission complaint against Reichert, and the incumbent’s team charging that Burner has misled voters about her degree from Harvard.

Burner said Reichert’s advertising firm, Media Plus, has made what she alleges amounts to an illegal loan of as much as $1 million to buy airtime in this last week before Election Day.

“From my perspective, when they are breaking the law and then use that money to go up on television to say that I don’t have a degree that I did in fact earn, do I think it’s getting nasty? Absolutely. But not on our side,” Burner said. “They will do anything to hold onto this seat, and they don’t care about the law or the truth.”

Reichert’s campaign calls the allegations of FEC violations unfounded and continues to pounce on Burner over her college degree.

With the economy taking a center stage in the campaign, Burner has touted her Harvard degree, which she says is “in computer science with a special field of economics.” Reichert’s team says she has misrepresented a dual major in computer science and economics and that she really only holds the degree from Harvard in computer science.

“Our opponent has lied about her Harvard education,” said Amanda Halligan, Reichert’s communications director. “That speaks to her integrity, and that’s a deal breaker for people in the 8th district. That message is getting out there.”

As for the FEC allegations, Halligan said, “we placed our media buy” and will pay the bill as soon as the media firm sends it.

So for this cycle, Reichert has reported having raised $2.4 million, with a little less than $600,000 in cash on hand as of this month. Burner has raised $3.5 million and had about $200,000 in cash on hand this month.

Both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have infused hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race and have stepped up their rhetoric.

“Dave Reichert was a good sheriff but has been ineffective in Congress,” DCCC spokesman Yoni Cohen said. “He supported the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”

On the other side, the NRCC also is getting into the Harvard degree issue.

“Darcy Burner has been more than happy to lecture voters about her disastrous economic [proposals], but it turns out she might have benefited from a few more lectures on economics in order to complete the actual degree she has been lying about on the campaign trail,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said, adding, “We are committed to doing what it takes to win. This is a priority district for us.”

The NRCC is on the air with ads and plans to stay there until Election Day.

“This is a classic matchup between a moderate statesman and a hyperpartisan,” Spain said. “Dave Reichert has established himself as a reasonable bipartisan Member of Congress with a multitude of accomplishments on the environment and homeland security issues.”

Reichert on his campaign Web site boasts numerous endorsements from regional papers such as the Seattle Times to law enforcement and lobbying groups including the Humane Society, National Federation of Independent Business, National Education Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others.

But Democrats say that won’t be enough to eke out a victory this time.

“Darcy’s in a strong position to win,” said Kelly Steele, spokesman for the Washington state Democratic Party. “Voters in the district are very focused on economic issues.” Steele added that the state party is concentrating mainly on get-out-the-vote efforts in the district as well as across the state. “The NRCC put in close to half a million dollars into Reichert’s race,” he said. “We’ve got the kitchen sink on the way.”

But Luke Esser, chairman of the state’s Republican Party, said that in these final days leading up to the election, things are breaking in Reichert’s favor.

“Obviously, Dave Reichert is our only Republican Congressman on the west side of the state,” Esser said. “He’s a unique person, which has enabled him to hold onto that seat, and we’re planning to do everything we can to turn out Republican voters.”

David Olson, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Washington, said the 8th district has gone from more reliably conservative to competitive.

“The district is increasingly becoming more diverse with respect to ethnic immigration,” Olson said, noting that it has large Russian and Asian communities.

He said turnout in Washington state is expected to hit a historic high. “We’re going to see a turnout in the state of Washington on Nov. 4 that will be the largest turnout since 1944,” Olson predicted, adding that turnout will be an advantage to Burner. (He said 1944 had high turnout because of World War II.) Much of that increased turnout, he said, is because of Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential election operation.

Reichert has crossed party lines when it comes to votes on the environment, but Olson said that will be of little help because voters in the 8th district are caught up on the national fixation on the ailing economy.

“Economic issues cast a penumbra over everything else,” Olson said.

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