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Dave Reichert won’t seek reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018

Entrenched Republican incumbent Dave Reichert announced in a lengthy statement this morning that he has decided not to seek reelection to the United States House of Representatives in 2018, setting the stage for what could be one of the most closely contested U.S. House races in the country next year.

“It has been an honor and and a privilege to serve the people of the greatest state in the world’s greatest nation for nearly five decades,” Reichert said, saying his “life of service” was entering a “new phase”. “First as a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves for six years, then in the King County Sheriff’s Office for 33 years, and most recently as a seven term Member of Congress.”

“After spending time during the August work period with family and friends, reflecting on the past, discussing the future, and celebrating another birthday, I have decided this will be my last term and I will not run for reelection in November 2018. It was not an easy decision but I believe it was the right one for my family and me. I have spent my entire career and devoted my life to service. I see this not just as a job, but as a calling — a calling I will not walk away from.”

Republicans have held a long grip on the 8th District, going back to the district’s inception following the 1980 census. Reichert is the third Republican to represent the district, after Rod Chandler (1983 – 1993) and Jennifer Dunn (1993 – 2005). However, the district has been supporting Democrats for President for years. It backed Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and most recently, Hillary Clinton… even after its boundaries became more favorable to Republicans in 2012.

Reichert beat out several other Republicans in 2004 for the Republican nomination (2004 was a year when Washington had a real primary) and went on to defeat Democratic nominee Dave Ross in the general election.

Darcy Burner then mounted two consecutive challenges to Reichert (one in 2006, the second in 2008), both of which were unsuccessful.

In 2010, Suzan DelBene stepped up to take on Reichert, but by then, Reichert was well entrenched and had survived two Democratic wave election cycles, and he was able to defeat DelBene without much difficulty. (The following year, DelBene’s neighborhood was placed into the open 1st Congressional District, and she ran for Congress again and won. She continues to represent the 1st District today.)

Reichert then faced Karen Porterfield (2012), Jason Ritchie (2014), and Tony Ventrella (2016), winning by lopsided margins each time.

Democrats had vowed to mount a more credible challenge to Reichert in 2018, but Reichert’s decision to retire will completely change the dynamics of the race. The 8th District is now one of the best pickup opportunities anywhere in the country, and to properly take advantage, the party will want a charismatic, credible candidate who is comfortable campaigning on both sides of the Cascade Mountains.

Prior to Reichert’s retirement, a slew of candidates had stepped forward to challenge him as Democrats. Only one is an elected official: Issaquah City Councilmember Tola Marts. With Reichert now retiring, we’ll see other elected officials give thought to entering the race, and potentially jump in.

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s Steve Stivers lamely tried to put the best possible spin on Reichert’s retirement, offering the following response: “Washington’s 8th District is a seat that has chosen Republicans for over a decade. With a bitter and expensive primary fight already confronting Democrats in this seat, Republicans are ready to elect another common-sense congressman like Dave Reichert, not another rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi.”

First of all, Washington State doesn’t utilize a primary to select nominees like most other states do. Washington has the Top Two system, in which the top two vote getters advance regardless of party. This is a system that can potentially result in either the Democratic or Republican parties getting completely shut out of the general election, even in a statewide contest. For example:

  • in 2014 and 2016 in the 4th Congressional District, where the general election was a contest between Clint Didier and Dan Newhouse;
  • in 2016 in the state Treasurer’s race, where the general election was a contest between two Republican candidates;
  • several times per cycle in legislative districts that are heavily Democratic (i.e. in Seattle) or heavily Republican (i.e. in Eastern Washington).

If Republicans get their own field of candidates and they split the vote more badly than the Democratic candidates do, the Democratic Party could have two of its own candidates advance to the general election and the seat would be lost to the Republicans. It’s not an unrealistic scenario.

At this point, Republicans can’t afford to gloat about the prospect for Democratic divisions when they have their own field to manage.

The Democratic field is going to be upended anyway. It was in a state of flux even before Reichert’s decision to retire, with candidates exiting and entering. With Reichert’s retirement, the six Democratic members of the state’s delegation will take an intense interest in the race, as will the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Second, the notion that Reichert was a “common sense Congressman” is a laugher. Talk about rubber stamps — Reichert is the living, walking definition of a rubber stamp. He does what he’s told, and has ever since he was elected.

He even admitted it at a gathering of the Mainstream Republicans in 2006:

Sometimes the leadership comes to me and says, `Dave, we want you to vote a certain way.’ Now, they know I can do that over here, that I have to do that over here. In other districts, that’s not a problem, but here I have to be able to be very flexible in where I place my votes.

Because the big picture here is, keep this seat, keep the majority, keep the country moving forward with Republican ideals — especially on the budget, on protecting our troops, on protecting this country. Right? Being responsible with taxpayer dollars. All of those things. That’s the big picture. Not the vote I place on ANWR that you may not agree with, or the vote that I place on protecting salmon.”

You have to… be … flexible.

And so, when the leadership comes to me and says ‘Dave, we need you to take a vote over here because we want to protect you and keep this majority, I…I do it.’

Because Reichert is a rubber stamp, he is in the habit of waiting to receive instructions prior to announcing how he’ll vote on a contentious bill or amendment that’s unlikely to be well received back home in the real Washington.

When top Republicans reach the point where they don’t need his vote, they release him and give him permission to buttress his mythological reputation as an independent thinker by voting no — like on the awful Trumpcuts bill.

Reichert has traditionally enjoyed one important advantage in his campaigns and during his service as a Member of Congress, however: he’s continually been able to rely on an adept staff who have helped compensate for his shortcomings.

Reichert has been the subject of many critical Cascadia Advocate posts over the years. Here’s a look back at the lowlights of his tenure in Congress: