Cathy McMorris, who began her career in politics at the age of 24, will be the first woman to represent Eastern Washington in the U.S. House after soundly defeating Democrat Don Barbieri on Tuesday.
“I’m extremely honored and will work hard to make this district proud,” McMorris said at the Davenport Hotel, where Republican Party faithful anxiously awaited her victory speech Tuesday night.
McMorris’s victory was welcome news for her party, which gambled the 5th District seat would stay Republican after George Nethercutt challenged Democrat Patty Murray for her Senate seat.
“We have been well-represented by George Nethercutt,” said McMorris, who added that she will sit down with him to talk about continuing what he started.
She said she was surprised by the wide margin of her victory and especially by her strong showing in Spokane County.
McMorris, 35, born in Oregon and raised in Canada and Kettle Falls, Wash., was first appointed to the rural 7th District state House seat left vacant when Bob Morton was appointed to the Senate in 1993. Since then, she has won re-election five times.
Last year she became the first woman of either party to be chosen to lead her party’s caucus in the state House. She stressed her experience in the Legislature defending small businesses against tax and regulatory burdens.
Barbieri, 58, the chairman and former CEO of WestCoast Hospitality Corp., ran on his record of expanding his family’s real estate development and management business from five to 5,000 employees. He also cited his experience on the board of Sacred Heart Medical Center, as chairman of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and on the economic development commissions of three governors.
Barbieri congratulated McMorris and told a ballroom packed with Democrats at the WestCoast Ridpath Hotel that they should reach across the aisle to her to build a better community.
“We are not going to let our community be divided,” he told the Democrats. “I’m going to be out there working arm-in-arm with those candidates that were successful.”
He said he had “absolutely no regrets” about running and felt lucky and proud to be able to participate in the electoral process.
With Republicans holding a slim 11-seat majority in the House of Representatives, the congressional campaign committees of both parties weighed in heavily in the race with negative television advertising. The Republican committee accused Barbieri of putting profits before jobs in consolidating two Spokane dairies that were running at 50 percent of capacity. The Democratic committee attacked McMorris’s legislative votes against expanding health care coverage to children and low-income residents.
In an 11th-hour campaign blitz, Barbieri made much of McMorris’ support for consideration of a national sales tax as an alternative to the federal income tax, a proposal the Democrat said would have increased the tax burden on the middle class. McMorris fired back with ads of her own, accusing Barbieri of supporting a state income tax, a charge the Democrat denied.
In numerous debates, the candidates clashed on how best to shore up the district’s sagging economy, reform the health care industry and defend the nation from terrorist attack.
In the closing days of the race, McMorris received campaign help from former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, while Barbieri was visited by Sen. Maria Cantwell and West Side U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks and Brian Baird.
Barbieri ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. McMorris defeated Spokane attorney Shaun Cross and former state Sen. Larry Sheahan for her party’s nomination.