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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase files as Republican to challenge Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Rob Chase speaks at a campaign event for the Spokane County commissioner seat in this September 2018 photo at the Spokane County Interstate Fair. Chase filed paperwork earlier this week with the Federal Election Commission declaring his intention to run for the Eastern Washington seat in Congress as a Republican. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Rob Chase, a former two-term Spokane County treasurer who’s pushed libertarian policies in the past, will run as a Republican for the congressional seat held by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

“I think Cathy’s always been nice to me. I like her,” Chase said Friday. “I think it’s time for a change.”

Chase filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday to run for the 5th Congressional District seat. He’s the third candidate to declare candidacy, along with McMorris Rodgers, who will seek a ninth term on Capitol Hill, and Chris Armitage, a Democrat with a military background who’s pitching himself as a progressive, grassroots candidate.

This will be the second congressional run for Chase, whose first successful foray into elected politics came with an unlikely win for treasurer in 2010. He had previously run as a Libertarian in 2002 against Republican Rep. George Nethercutt, earning 5% of the primary vote that year.

A former real estate agent, Chase mounted a write-in candidacy for treasurer in August 2010, only to qualify for the general election ballot and unseat Democrat Skip Chillberg in an election in which voters also ousted a sitting Democratic county commissioner.

But Chase noted he worked for presidential candidate Ron Paul in both 2008 and 2012 in Eastern Washington. He believes he has enough connections in the district to at least place second in the August primary, which would put him on the ballot in November because of the state’s system that advances two candidates regardless of party.

“I think I’ve got a good chance. I think Cathy and I will split the Republican vote,” Chase said.

McMorris Rodgers split the vote with three other conservative candidates in the August 2018 primary, but still emerged victorious against Democrat Lisa Brown by 8,000 votes in that contest. None of those conservative candidates had won an election, as Chase did twice, however. The congresswoman holds a decisive fundraising advantage in a primary contest that is now six months away, reporting more than $1.1 million cash on hand. Armitage has not yet reported fundraising totals, and Chase’s first receipts won’t need to be reported until mid-April.

The McMorris Rodgers campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Armitage said he was focused on reaching voters, not who his potential opponents might be.

“We’re just running the race we’re running out here,” Armitage said Friday. “We’re more focused on the districts and the residents, than on him, or even, to a degree, on Cathy McMorris Rodgers.”

But Armitage noted Chase’s relationship with state Rep. Matt Shea, and vocal support for the embattled Spokane Valley lawmaker who has been booted from the House Republican Caucus after an independent investigative report found that Shea participated in acts of domestic terrorism, including supporting the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and surveilling political opponents. Chase continued that support in an interview Friday, likening Shea’s behavior to that of President Donald Trump, his subsequent impeachment and acquittal in the Senate.

“I stand by Matt Shea. I don’t think he did anything illegal,” Chase said.

Chase did not say whether he’d seek Shea’s endorsement in the congressional race, but noted he had received the lawmaker’s support in the past in an unsuccessful run for Spokane County commissioner. In 2018, Shea endorsed McMorris Rodgers in her race against Brown.

Chase, who criticized McMorris Rodgers for her support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and said the Republicans under Trump were continuing to drive up the national debt, declined to say Friday if he would support McMorris Rodgers as the Republican candidate should he not make it through the primary election. The conservative candidates in 2018’s primary all eventually supported McMorris Rodgers, who earned an easy victory in the general election.

“It depends on what kind of contest we have,” he said. “I think I’ve got a good relationship with Cathy. It’s been civil and polite.”