Heading into 2008, Washington's 8th Congressional District is set for round 2 of last year's Darcy Burner-Dave Reichert battle -- and attention is already focusing on the question of whether Reichert's Democratic challenger can reverse last year's result.
In 2006, Burner came close to unseating Reichert, forcing him to take less than 52 percent of the vote. Yet, in an extremely anti-Republican year, and in a district that went to Al Gore and John Kerry and was won by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell in their most recent races, Reichert's win, even by a small margin, was still seen as something of a coup, especially in Republican circles.
However, if the initial message that some Republicans took from last year's race was that Reichert was unbeatable, or that Burner's re-run candidacy was more a joke than a serious threat, the party has been taking a different view of late.
In June, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza published an updated list of the GOP's self-declared most endangered Republican House incumbents. While Reichert's name had not been on the original list, it was added, showing the national party organization has identified the district as more in play than previously thought.
However, the 8th is still not enough in play for Reichert to be typically ranked as among the most at-risk congressional incumbents by those covering the 2008 congressional elections. Cillizza has yet to place Reichert on any of his "10 most vulnerable" lists. Moreover, the Cook Political Report, which assesses the competitiveness of congressional races, continues to list Reichert's district among those that "lean Republican," rather than as a "toss up"-- the rating that Burner and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would really like to see, as they gear up for 2008.
Some political odds-makers remain skeptical of Burner's ability to beat Reichert, based on the fact that her strongest supporters appear to be left-wing bloggers at such sites as DailyKos, Firedoglake and Openleft (aka, the "netroots"). Remembering the ultimate failure of netroots-backed candidate Ned Lamont against Sen. Joe Lieberman last year, it is easy to dismiss Burner's chances of winning off the back of online, liberal support in a district that has a habit of electing moderate Republicans to Congress.
It's also easy to dismiss suggestions that Reichert is too conservative for his district, given that his reputation in Congress is far from that of a Bushite Republican, as Burner's allies claim. In 2006 and 2007, political publisher National Journal named Reichert as one of the most centrist members of Congress, likely based on his votes against his party on items such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and preventing federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case.
Reichert will have plenty of money to burn next year informing voters of his centrist record, just as Burner will have plenty to spend bashing him. In the first half of 2007, Reichert raised $455,000, and he has since raised at least $250,000 more, thanks in large part to President Bush headlining a fundraiser jointly benefiting him and the state GOP. For her part, Burner raised $224,000 in the first half of this year, and about another $125,000, which flowed in, in connection with her holding a virtual town hall meeting to coincide with Bush's visit to the area.
Burner's efforts -- in fundraising and otherwise -- thus far appear to be paying off. She has cleared the Democratic primary field of opponents, with state Sen. Rodney Tom withdrawing from the race last week. Moreover, a recent poll conducted on behalf of 21st Century Democrats shows Burner competing well with Reichert, more than a year ahead of the election.
But that trend may not last: Burner wants this race to be about national politics, yet the Democratic Congress is earning poor grades from voters these days (just 33 percent approve of the job they're doing, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll). Reichert, by contrast, will want this election to be about local issues and experience, which has worked well for him in the past.
In such circumstances, Burner would be well advised to take note of one of the lessons dispensed by that icon of Democratic politics, Tip O'Neill: All politics is local. When you're running for the second time against the man who caught the Green River killer, you'd better believe it.