In 2018, pediatrician Kim Schrier became the first Democrat to capture Washington’s 8th Congressional District seat – winning a nationally watched contest that helped the party secure a majority in the House of Representatives.
After expending comparatively little energy to retake the swing seat last year, Republicans are mounting a more aggressive effort ahead of 2022, banking on the typical midterm backlash against incumbent presidents.
Matt Larkin, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general last year, declared a bid for Schrier’s seat this month, emphasizing homelessness, crime and efforts to defund police in nearby Seattle.
The National Republican Congressional Committee placed Schrier on its initial list of 47 targeted Democratic incumbents for 2022. The state Republican Party has set a “Flip the 8th” fundraiser for June 30 at a Maple Valley winery, featuring Republican National Committee co-chairperson Tommy Hicks.
Democrats are in a precarious position after losing more than a dozen House seats last year. Republicans need to take just five seats to win back a majority.
Schrier won a second term in 2020 by defeating Republican Jesse Jensen, a tech firm manager and decorated combat veteran. Jensen was vastly outspent and received little support from national Republicans, but still eked out 48% of the vote.
In a statement Friday, Jensen said he is considering running again.
“I was privileged to serve our country in combat as an Army Ranger and was proud of what we accomplished while running for Congress in 2020,” he said. “The 8th Congressional District continues to lack the leadership and national representation needed to combat the serious issues on our streets, at the border, and across the globe.”
Larkin has worked for the past decade as an executive at his family’s Bothell manufacturing company, Romac Industries. He previously worked for a few months as a deputy prosecutor in Pierce County and as a White House speechwriter in the final year of George W. Bush’s administration.
Although the 8th District does not include Seattle, Larkin has made a round of appearances on Fox News and conservative radio talk shows, talking almost exclusively about the city’s scenes of homelessness, drug use and violent clashes between protesters and police.
“I grew up in Seattle, so it’s near and dear to my heart,” Larkin said in an interview with the Seattle Times. He said he and his wife and four children are in the city “quite a bit” for Mariners games and other events and see conditions that worry them.
The 8th District includes portions of eastern King and Pierce counties – including Issaquah, Sammamish, Auburn and Kent – and stretches across the Cascade Mountains to Kittitas and Chelan counties.
Communities outside of Seattle are concerned, Larkin said, that problems there will spread.
“We are seeing homelessness and drugs happening all over the state,” he said, adding “a lot of people feel like no one is standing up to tackle these issues head on.”
He did not name specific legislation or proposals he’d support but said “in the big picture I think we need to be backing our police.”
Elizabeth Carlson, a Schrier campaign spokesperson, said in a statement the congresswoman is focused on doing the job she was reelected to do.
“As the country turns the corner on COVID, her focus is on getting vaccines in arms, getting our economy back on track, and getting people back to work and school, safely,” Carlson said.
Schrier has a fundraising head start, with more than $2 million cash on hand in her re-election account as of the latest Federal Election Commission filing in April.
Larkin declined to take a position on two major topics that have roiled Congress and threatened to destabilize America’s political system.
He said he doesn’t know how he would have voted on the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Senate Republicans on Friday blocked the creation of the commission.
Larkin also wouldn’t say whether he believes President Joe Biden’s win over Donald Trump was legitimate or whether he buys into Trump’s unproven and false claims of widespread fraud.
“I don’t want to weigh into that,” he said.
In the 2020 election, Larkin received about 43% of the vote in the attorney general race, losing to incumbent Democrat Bob Ferguson. But Larkin notes he won in the 8th District, with about 51% of the vote.
Larkin lives in Woodinville, several miles outside of the 8th District. That’s not a barrier to run for the seat as the U.S. Constitution only requires that candidates for a U.S. House seat live in the same state.
And the boundaries of the 8th District are likely to shift in this year’s redistricting process – a wild card for the 2022 election.
Washington’s bipartisan redistricting commission is in the process of starting the once-a-decade task of redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries based on census results.
Democrats are likely to seek to protect Schrier by shaving off more conservative portions of the 8th District. Republicans could seek to block such moves and ensure the district remains within striking distance.
The commission has until Nov. 15 to adopt its final maps.