An open seat in Central Washington’s 4th Congressional District is rare, happening only three times in 56 years. But the number of would-be successors to Republican Rep. Doc Hastings this year is unprecedented.
A dozen candidates are trying to get a spot on the general election ballot. Only the top two candidates in the Aug. 5 primary will advance.
Finding a way to get voters to pick you out of a list of 12 names on the ballot arriving in homes around the state is a challenge based solely on the issues, particularly for the eight Republicans, several candidates admitted. All are conservatives who believe in strict adherence to the Constitution, smaller government and lower taxes. Alphabetically, they’re George Cicotte, Clint Didier, Janea Holmquist, Kevin Midbust, Dan Newhouse, Gordon Allen Pross, Gavin Seim and Glen Stockwell.
Democrats in the district have two choices, Estakio Beltran and Tony Sandoval, both of them part of the district’s growing Hispanic population.
Independents also have a pair of choices, Richard Wright and Josh Ramirez.
When Hastings announced his retirement this spring, conventional wisdom said the winner of the 4th would come from one of the district’s two biggest population centers, Yakima or the Tri-Cities. But as the ranks of candidates grew, conventional wisdom went out the window. Splitting the vote 12 ways in a primary system that allows the top two into the general regardless of party, suggests anything can happen.
Efforts to stick in voters’ minds are as varied as the candidates.
Cicotte, a Kennewick attorney, borrowed a page from Newt Gingrich’s 1994 playbook and offered up a “contract” with the district voters. He’s promising to fight for 10 specific pieces of legislation – reforms to health care, entitlements, national security and immigration – in his first term. If he can’t accomplish most of them? “I don’t run again or the voters don’t re-elect me,” he said.
Eltopia farmer Didier played on the district’s strong support of the Second Amendment with a “gun giveaway” – actually three guns that went to people randomly drawn from those who entered their names, email addresses and ZIP codes on his campaign website.
Perhaps the most unusual attempt to stick in voters’ minds thus far goes to Midbust, who showed up at a Benton City forum Thursday evening wearing a lion costume. He uses an image of a lion on his website and campaign material.
The 27-year-old Rite Aid supervisor from Richland is a firebrand with an extremely low-budget first campaign – no contributions, according to Federal Elections Commission reports – who talks passionately about freedom and fixing a broken government.
He’s not to be confused with Seim, another young firebrand in his first campaign who also talks passionately about liberty and shrinking an overreaching government. The 29-year-old photographer and videographer from Ephrata has raised about $13,500 and has a stronger social media presence.
For voters seeking someone with legislative experience, there are state Sen. Janea Holmquist of Moses Lake, who is giving up her seat in the attempt to go to Congress, and former state Rep. Dan Newhouse.
As the only woman in the race, Holmquist has a built-in advantage for standing out on the ballot or in forums, and has a long list of endorsements that include fellow legislators as well as the Human Life PAC.
Newhouse, who also served as state agriculture director for Gov. Chris Gregoire, fills much of his endorsement list with farmers and farm groups. He contends the fact that Gregoire is a Democrat and he’s a Republican is a plus and shows he’d be able to work with people of different political persuasions “to find common ground and solutions.”
His stint as ag director has prompted some other candidates or their campaigns to question his GOP credentials. But in Washington, where voters do not register by party and candidates appear on the ballot as merely “preferring” a party, such complaints might not carry much weight beyond the strongest partisans.
Several candidates may stick in voters’ minds from past campaigns. Didier ran as an anti-establishment Republican for the U.S. Senate in 2010, taking the most votes in three 4th District counties in the primary but ultimately losing statewide to Republican Dino Rossi, who lost to Democrat Patty Murray in the general. In 2012, he ran for state lands commissioner; although he lost the statewide race to Democrat Peter Goldmark, he carried most of Eastern Washington, including all counties in the 4th District.
Other candidates have been on the ballot more, but with less success. Gordon Allen Pross, who lives near Ellensburg, unsuccessfully challenged Hastings several times since 1998, first as a Democrat and later as a Republican, and made primary runs against Murray in 2004 and Sen. Maria Cantwell in 2006. The district was redrawn in 2011 and he’s no longer in it, but Pross points out – correctly, constitutional experts will confirm – that a representative need not live in the district he or she represents, only in the same state. Washington voters have never selected a candidate from out of district but “stranger things have happened,” he said.
“I grew up in the 4th,” Pross said. “I have my heart in this district. I understand the issues.”
Stockwell, of Ritzville, has run for a wide range of offices, from U.S. Senate to state Legislature, often championing ways for the federal government to complete the massive irrigation and development projects on the Columbia and Snake rivers. This year he continues that theme but may also stand out for voters as the most anti-Obama, calling the president a “Kenyan-Indonesian” and a “fraud” who should be impeached.
Wright, a physical therapist and businessman from Kennewick, challenged Hastings twice, losing in the primary in 2004 and in the general in 2006 as a Democrat. This year he jumped in late, as an independent, calling for an end to bipartisan bickering. If he’s elected, he said he can reach both ways across the aisle, from the middle.
“I never received any support from the Democratic Party when I ran in 2006, so that’s kind of what I’m used to,” he added.
Ramirez, a Hanford contract worker and adjunct instructor at Columbia Basin College, is making his first run for office.
Democrats have two candidates, although the party establishment is throwing its weight behind Beltran, a 30-year-old former aide to Cantwell who grew up in a series of foster homes around the district. He’s citing his experience working on Capitol Hill as what separates him from the other candidates. He also says this is one time his unusual name will work to his advantage, sticking out in voters’ minds.
Didier is not alone in trying to tap into gun sentiment, but Beltran’s effort may have backfired. Earlier this month he released a commercial that featured him blasting away at an elephant piñata with a shotgun, drawing criticism from gun control advocates. The commercial was pulled after a few days.
Sandoval has roots with the Democratic Party in Yakima, is the founder of the Latino caucus for the state party and serves as its congressional district vice chairman.