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Washington Could Be Key Battleground for Women in Both Parties

Female Democrats could emerge as challengers in all four GOP-held House seats

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is a Democratic target this year in Washington’s 5th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is a Democratic target this year in Washington’s 5th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With a surge of female House candidates across the country, Washington is emerging as a key battleground for women on both sides of the aisle. 

All four of the state’s Republican-held districts could have female Democratic challengers following next week’s primary. And two of those Republican targets are women. 

“I think that we have always had women that have paved the way in politics here,” said Tina Podlodowski, the Washington State Democratic Party chairwoman, who noted that the state is accustomed to female leaders from both parties.

Washington is one of four states with two female senators, and was one of the first where the pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s List was active. Both Republican congresswomen who are targets this year served in the state Legislature before coming to Congress, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She was minority leader in the state House, the first woman to lead a party caucus there, and she is currently the only woman in House GOP leadership.

First, these women have to make it through the Aug. 7 primary, where candidates from all parties compete on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters advance to November.

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Democrats aren’t concerned about two Republicans advancing, shutting them out of the general election, as they were in California. They’re targeting three of the four GOP-held House seats, with one considered a top pickup opportunity. 

Toss-up race 

GOP Rep. Dave Reichert’s decision not to run for re-election opened up a competitive race in the 8th District that Hillary Clinton carried by 3 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

Two women and one man are the top Democrats, while Republicans have coalesced around real estate investor and former state Sen. Dino Rossi.

Rossi was touted as a top GOP recruit, well-known in the area and a prolific fundraiser. (He’s already raised more than $3 million.) While he lost his three runs for statewide office — twice for governor and once for Senate — he did well in the area in those campaigns.

“People here see [that] the best person to take him on would be a woman,” said Katie Rodihan, a spokeswoman for Democrat Kim Schrier.

Schrier, a pediatrician, had already been challenging Reichert and has outraised the other Democrats in the race. She’s particularly targeting female voters, and has had some help from EMILY’s List. The group’s independent expenditure arm spending nearly $335,000 on her behalf, largely on mailers, according to ProPublica.

Democrat Shannon Hader, a doctor who worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, launched her campaign after EMILY’s List backed Schrier. Hader said national groups tend to misunderstand the district, pointing out its diverse geography that includes wealthy Seattle suburbs, small towns and farm country.

Hader has several local endorsements, including The Seattle Times. Her pitch to voters centers on her roots in the district and her experience overseeing complex programs at the CDC. 

“I am definitely not running as, ‘Vote for me because I’m a woman, or, ‘Vote for me because I’m a doctor,’” Hader said. Instead she said she’s running as a problem solver, adding that it’s a “bonus” that she’s a woman with health care experience.

The third top Democrat in the race is Jason Rittereiser, whose campaign believes that his roots in the rural part of the district give him an advantage. He has emphasized his background as a prosecutor, which could be fruitful in a district that consistently backed Reichert, a well-known King County sheriff before his election to Congress. Rittereiser is also the only one of the three candidates to say he would support “Medicare for All” legislation in the House.

It’s unclear which Democrat will secure the second-place spot behind Rossi next Tuesday. Both Schrier and Rittereiser have TV ads on the air, and Hader has sent out mailers.

Regardless of the result, Democrats are already gearing up to compete here. House Majority PAC, which has ties to House Democratic leadership, has already reserved $1.7 million in the Seattle media market, and it has spent $176,000 so far, mainly on digital ads opposing Rossi.

Watch: There’s Been a Dramatic Rise in Female Campaign Donors This Cycle

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Other targets 

Democratic women are poised to advance to November in the three other GOP-held House seats, two of which are Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targets. 

McMorris Rodgers is set to face former Washington State University Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown in the 5th District, which Podlodowski referred to as a “battle royale.” Brown is the only Democrat on the primary ballot, and previously served as the state Senate majority leader. 

Brown has proved to be a strong fundraiser, and is closing in on McMorris Rodgers’ cash-on-hand advantage. She had $920,000 in the bank as of July 18, which was the end of the pre-primary reporting period. McMorris Rodgers had $1.2 million on hand. 

President Donald Trump carried the Spokane-anchored 5th District in Eastern Washington by 13 points in 2016, taking 52 percent of the vote. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

Democrats are also targeting GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the 3rd District in southwestern Washington, although they acknowledge that’s more of a reach. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

Beutler could face Washington State University professor Carolyn Long, whom one Democratic operative involved in House races expects to emerge from the primary. The two other top Democrats in terms of fundraising are Army veteran David McDevitt, the 2016 nominee, and Iraq War veteran Dorothy Gasque, who worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

EMILY’s List has endorsed both Brown and Long but hasn’t spent in either primary.

Outside GOP groups are also poised to defend McMorris Rodgers and Herrera Beutler. Winning for Women has not yet spent in those races, but the group is monitoring the contests. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List has dropped roughly $16,000 on mailers for each of the GOP lawmakers.

A Democratic woman is also poised to take on GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse in the 4th District in central Washington, an even longer shot for Democrats. Former television news reporter Christine Brown is the only candidate challenging the two-term congressman.

Trump carried the 4th District by 23 points with 58 percent of the vote. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

Correction, 12:40 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated Katie Rodihan’s job title.

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