National Democratic strategists have set their sights on the congressional seat owned by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Emboldened by wins earlier this week in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as strong early campaign fundraising totals by challenger Lisa Brown, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Thursday it was now including Washington’s 5th district seat in Congress as a target to flip in 2018.
“Lisa Brown’s strong candidacy for this seat and the unprecedented grassroots support she’s received demonstrate that she’s in a strong position heading into next fall,” said Andrew Goldinich, a spokesman for the committee based on the West Coast.
The designation doesn’t automatically mean national Democrats will start spending cash in the district. But it does mean the committee, whose goal is to get Democrats into the House of Representatives, will assist in research and organizing for Brown’s campaign.
McMorris Rodgers joins her former staffer, Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, as the second Washington Republican the committee is seeking to defeat. Among the 91 Congressional contests the committee has identified as winnable next year are the race for the seat vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Dave Reichert in Washington’s 8th district, and the seat held by House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican with whom McMorris Rodgers shares a close alliance.
Brown said designation of the seat as a priority for strategists hoping to retake control of the House next year is a testament to early hard work on the campaign, which began in earnest at the end of August. Brown’s team has already raised nearly a quarter-million dollars.
“I think it’s going to be exciting for all the supporters,” Brown said in an interview Thursday. “It really validates all their efforts.”
McMorris Rodgers’ campaign team released a statement in response to questions about Democrats’ interest in her seat that tied Brown to national-level politicians they say don’t speak for Eastern Washington voters.
“It’s not surprising that this race would be targeted since Cathy has been results driven, unwavering in her support for conservative principles, and is an important leader in the House,” said Emily Strode, a campaign spokeswoman, in an email. “Extreme far left special interest groups in San Francisco, New York and Massachusetts will try to buy this election so they can impose their government-knows-best agenda on our communities.”
Andrew Biviano, chair of the Spokane County Democrats, said the national committee will work directly with the Brown campaign, and his organization wasn’t contacted about their interest in the race. He said the decision to devote national resources to a district that has leaned so heavily Republican for so long – McMorris Rodgers has never earned less than 56 percent of the popular vote in a general election in her 12 years in Congress – speaks not only to what he called the vulnerability of the Republican Party with President Donald Trump in the White House, but also Brown’s qualifications as a candidate.
“You have all the ingredients for a strong candidate on the Democratic side, with her demonstrated success of winning elections,” Biviano said. Brown served for 20 years in the Washington State Legislature, leaving office in 2013 as Senate majority leader.
Stephanie Cates, chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, acknowledged that Brown has more name recognition than some of McMorris Rodgers’ opponents. But she said the party would emphasize that Brown’s record in the state Legislature, specifically opposing a two-thirds majority vote of lawmakers needed for tax increases, didn’t comport with the views of a majority of Eastern Washington voters.
“I don’t think she’ll get a lot of support outside the liberal core of Spokane,” Cates said.
Brown’s fundraising total for the 2018 contest already sits at a little less than $250,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings, an amount amassed in less than three months since announcing her candidacy. That’s about a third of the $732,000 McMorris Rodgers’ campaign had on hand at the end of September.
For a three-month period ending in September, McMorris Rodgers reported contributions totaling around $350,000. Brown raised $224,000 over that same period. In the days before the report was due, McMorris Rodgers’ campaign sent out an email soliciting donations that warned supporters of her momentum.
It’s unclear whether support from the Democratic Party will help Brown in her bid outside of the district’s urban center. The state Democratic Party put up $10,000 in cash and contributions this year to candidates Karen Hardy and Susan Swanson, who sought election to the state Legislature in a district encompassing Okanogan, Stevens, Ferry, Pend Oreille and Spokane counties, all areas of McMorris Rodgers’ district. Both lost handily to Republican opponents.
Brown pointed out that in those races, the Democratic Party hadn’t run a candidate in years. Even 30 percent support for a Democratic candidate in those areas was encouraging, she said.
“I don’t think we knew where the needle was, because we hadn’t seen a Democrat run in quite a while,” she said.
In an interview Wednesday, McMorris Rodgers said victories by Democrats this week for state offices on the East Coast demonstrated that Congressional Republicans needed to start passing laws to earn voters’ support.
“I think for the president and the party, it’s clear that we need to get results,” McMorris Rodgers said. While Republicans in the House have done their part, passing more than 340 bills this session, more of those proposals needed to work their way through the Senate to the White House, she said.
“We need to get more on the president’s desk,” she said.
Matthew Sutherland, a Washington State University alumnus and U.S. Army Reserve member, has also declared as a Democratic candidate looking to unseat McMorris Rodgers. Biviano, chair of the local Democratic Party, said he believed the party was unified in its effort to elect a new Congressional representative and that both Brown and Sutherland would carry the party’s banner well, despite the national support for Brown.
“We endorse everybody who qualifies as a good Democratic candidate, and let the voters decide,” Biviano said.