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Spin Control

McMorris Rodgers challengers find hope in Cantor loss

The day after the House’s No. 2 Republican fell to a primary challenger, Eastern Washington congressional candidates were hoping Wednesday for a boost to knock off the No. 4 Republican.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers faces three challengers in the August primary – one Republican, one Democrat and one independent. Each thought the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor validated some aspects of their races, which appear to be long-shot bids against the five-term incumbent.

All three will run low-budget, populist races against the House Republican Conference chairwoman, hoping to finish at least second in the primary and then defeat her in a head-to-head contest in November. . . 

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. . . Under Washington’s primary election law, the top two vote getters go to the general, regardless of party; Cantor lost in a traditional Republican primary.

Independent Dave Wilson said one lesson of Cantor’s loss to college economics professor Dave Brat is that “big money doesn’t always win.” Cantor raised more than $5 million while Brat had about $300,000, and didn’t spend all of it. The most recent Federal Election Commission reports show an even bigger disparity between Wilson, who had raised about $13,000 by the most recent deadline compared, and McMorris Rodgers, who raised $1.3 million.

“The right message can overcome big money,” Wilson, a business and former owner of a computer training school. “I’ve got my finger on the pulse of the electorate.”

Democrat Joe Pakootas said Brat’s victory suggests a candidate who ignores his or her district can be beat. Brat criticized Cantor for spending too much time in Washington, D.C., on national issues and not enough time in his Virginia district. Pakootas thinks McMorris Rodgers can be painted with the same brush for her leadership work and repeated votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and an attempt to shut down the federal government over the budget dispute.

Brat may have picked up votes on the other side of those issues, criticizing Cantor and other GOP leaders like McMorris Rodgers for agreeing to end the government shutdown without getting concessions on Obamacare. But Pakootas said Eastern Washington’s 5th District is different than Cantor’s Virginia district.

“It will be hard for a conservative to run against her,” said Pakootas, the chief executive officer of the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation.

Republican Tom Horne is hoping that’s not true. He will challenge McMorris Rodgers on immigration issues, which may have helped Brat pick up votes against Cantor. In April, McMorris Rodgers told The Spokesman-Review she could support a plan that would grant legal status, but not amnesty, to undocumented immigrants. It would allow them to stay in the country to work and attend school while they waited to go through the current immigration process.

“It would legalize illegal immigrants,” said Horne, a retired engineer and volunteer firefighter. “How stupid does she think we are?”

McMorris Rodgers was mentioned early Wednesday by several political analysts as a possible replacement for Cantor, who will step down next month as majority leader and support Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, who is next in line on the leadership ladder, to move up. Late Wednesday her office released a statement that she would not seek either the majority leader or whip position but would remain in the No. 4 spot. Her staff did not return phone calls or e-mailed requests for comment from the congresswoman for this story.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.