The rural precincts of Washington, and counties east of the Cascades, have usually trended conservative and Republican. The tradition, however, is that a moderate Democrat of stature and ability could win them over by solving problems, being present, and delivering dollars.
U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., has delivered for the 8th District on both sides the “Cascade Curtain,” helping hay growers clear up obstacles to exports, working for more irrigation and fisheries water in the Yakima River Basin, and pushing to cap at $35 the monthly cost of insulin to diabetic seniors. The 8th District House member, for 17 years an Issaquah pediatrician, is diabetic and has worked the issue.
Yet Schrier finds herself in a pricey, tight contest with MAGA Republican Matt Larkin of Woodinville, part owner of a family business for which he serves as in-house counsel. Larkin ran a law-and-order campaign for state attorney general two years ago and took 43.67 percent of the vote against incumbent Bob Ferguson.
“I’ve got to run a perfect campaign: One slip up and I’m toast,” Schrier told supporters on Tuesday night. The 8th District includes Chelan and Kittitas Counties and has been expanded to include 47,000 most rural Snohomish County voters. She lost Auburn and Kent in redistricting.
Schrier will win handily in eastern King County, but must confront Trump country tribalism, polarization, and total-war approach to politics. As Schrier joked Tuesday, “Each side sees the other as an existential threat, and only we are correct.”
The 8th District contest is one of a few that will decide control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Three Republicans held the House seat for 36 years until Schrier took it in 2018. The Democrats are out to deliver for Schrier and show that she can deliver.
President Biden was at Green River College earlier this year, touting price caps on insulin and giving Medicare authority to negotiate prices with drug companies. Both measures became provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act. Vice President Kamala Harris, in Seattle on Wednesday, announced that four Washington school districts will get money to replace old, smelly diesel-powered buses with new electric buses. The Easton School District, in Kittitas County, is in Schrier’s district.
Larkin is going national. He denounces “left wing prosecutors.” The stump-speech promise that he makes is a vote to replace the Democrats’ current House speaker. Of Schrier, he told Shift Washington: “She is bringing Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco policies to Washington state and that’s why we are seeing the deterioration that is happening in our cities.” He unveiled, on Fox News, the slogan: “Make crime illegal again.”
The GOP challenger has dodged questions on whether President Biden was legitimately elected in 2020. On abortion, he told an August debate: “I promise I will fight for the lives of the unborn.” Larkin won’t say whether he would support a national abortion ban. He did respond at a Republican meeting last spring, “I don’t believe in the exceptions for the things you said, rape and incest and things like that.”
He has raised hackles in recent days, telling the Everett Herald’s Jerry Cornfield that Washington’s minimum wage, which rises to $15.74 an hour next January, should be closer to the federal hourly wage of $7.25, which hasn’t increased since the Bush II presidency. “It is very very hard to be a business owner in Washington right now.”
Schrier is pro-choice. She talks of two immediate goals if Democrats control Congress, to expand the cap on insulin costs to all users – a move that has been blocked by Republicans – and to codify into federal law the Roe v. Wade right to abortion.
The election of Larkin would signify a shift in how the Washington congressional delegation does business. The delegation has worked cooperatively. Schrier co-sponsored with GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse legislation that included expanding federal irrigation and fish efforts in the Yakima Bain plus $75 million in additional funding for American Indian irrigation projects. President Trump signed it into law.
An 8th District predecessor, Republican Dave Reichert, helped mount a discharge petition when GOP House leaders buried in committee the reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. He teamed with Democratic Rep. Denny Heck to force floor action, and with Sen. Maria Cantwell working the Senate to defend the bank, a pillar of Boeing’s overseas jet sales.
Larkin is of a different stripe. Schrier TV ads have taken up his statement: “This isn’t the year for moderation.” He has aired a TV spot which says “radical” groups that want to “defund the police” are pouring money into Schrier’s campaign, followed by scenes of rioters in the streets clashing with police. The groups listed on screen include the Sierra Club and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
By contrast, Reichert worked with the Sierra Club to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area in eastern King County and extend federal protection to the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River, closest mountain valley to Seattle. Reichert, Sen. Patty Murray and club leaders trooped around in the rain and mud where the river’s three branches join.
Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash, who represented the 8th District for 12 years, was pro-choice and was known to cite her NARAL rating to presumed-liberal Seattle reporters. Dunn turned back a right-wing populist, State Sen. Pam Roach, to win the seat. Earlier in the year, Republican strategists figured that her son, King County Councilman Reagan Dunn, was best positioned to challenge and defeat Schrier. Although named for the Gipper, the younger Dunn lost ground with Republican voters for not being conservative enough, and for holding his mother’s views on abortion.
Schrier took 48 percent of the vote in the top-two August primary, with Larkin scoring 17 percent of the vote as he outlasted three fellow Republicans. Schrier’s percentage was lower in Snohomish County, and she has since taken up the need to widen U.S. 2 through Stevens Pass. Affable and witty, she has continued a punishing schedule of town meetings through her four years in Congress.
Two masterful Democratic TV spots of the 1980s starred a drawling, old-boy county sheriff, touting a candidate for lieutenant governor and later governor. Voters in Virginia responded by making L. Douglas Wilder the nation’s first post-Reconstruction African American governor.
Kim Schrier has borrowed the playbook in an ad featuring a veteran officer’s testimonial, followed by how she has brought resources to law enforcement. She pushed a bipartisan bill that put resources into first responders, wildfire prevention, plus an increase of $506 million to state and local law enforcement.
As Schrier put it, “Fund the police.” The slogan is not for use at meetings of Seattle’s 36th and 37th District Democrats, but is pitch perfect for the U.S. 2 corridor.
Will it be enough? “This is a nail biter,” said Schrier.