Reagan Dunn is a mama’s boy and a child of the Republican right.
He was named after then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. He first came into the public eye at age nine, pictured canoeing with his mother, Republican State Chairman Jennifer Dunn (Republicans use the title “Chairman” even when the position is held by someone with a different gender identity), on the eve of the 1980 Republican National Convention that nominated The Gipper for President.
Four decades later, a middle-aged Dunn is running for the 8th Congressional District seat that was held by Jennifer Dunn from 1993 to 2005.
“We’re going to take mom’s seat back,” he said in announcing on Monday.
He is challenging two-term Democratic U.S. Representative Kim Schrier, an Issaquah pediatrician who in 2018 broke a thirty-six year Republican hold on the district. She took the seat of seven-term Republican Representative Dave Reichert, who retired after seeing more than seven hundred anti-Trump demonstrators march on his Issaquah office.
Reichert is chairing the Dunn campaign.
Under current configuration, the 8th is the first U.S. House district in Washington to cross the “Cascade Curtain.” It currently contains Chelan, Kittitas and a sliver of Douglas County, along with exurban King County and southeast Pierce County.
Schrier has captured and held the seat by piling up a substantial margin in King County while staying reasonably close in Chelan and Kittitas.
The 8th is anything but a safe seat. Schrier held it by a margin of just under 15,000 votes in 2020 against an underfinanced Republican challenger.
The congressional map proposed by the state’s Redistricting Commission would add eastern Snohomish County to the district, but the Supreme Court could go in another direction. (The Supreme Court was handed the responsibility of drawing the state’s next maps when the Commission failed to get its work done on time.)
Schrier works hard at the job. She has held multiple town meetings. She brings assets as one of Congress’ few physicians, and as a person dealing with diabetes.
She has championed the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, a federal-state-tribal effort designed to address climate change and provide water management that would both enhance irrigation and restore once-abundant Yakima River salmon runs.
Dunn is entering the contest as a kind of cookie cutter conservative Republican. He blames the Biden-Harris administration for inflation. He preaches limited government. He does a bit of bashing of the state’s largest city, pledging to fight “failed policies spreading from Seattle to our suburban neighborhoods.”
There’s the claim that he is “leading the fight to refund the police.”
He is touting a survey by Portland-based Moore Information – which has polled for Republican candidates since the 1980s – showing him ahead of other Republicans and Schrier, although not in the district he will be actually be running in, since nobody knows where the new 8th will be yet.
A Republican-allied front group has already aired anti-Schrier TV spots on Seattle stations, a clear signal that a very expensive campaign is in the works.
Dunn was elected to the King County Council in 2005, and just won another term with 63.6% of the vote. He represents a county district that overlaps the 8th in southeast King County. He is not quitting the Council to campaign for Congress.
Dunn has faced personal issues. He is a recovering alcoholic, telling the Seattle Times that he sought help for an alcohol problem as early as 2011.
He pleaded guilty to a DUI in Kittitas County in 2014.
Dunn ran statewide for Attorney General in 2012, capturing the endorsement of almost every daily newspaper in the state.
A national campaign organization of Republican attorneys general spent lavishly on television spots decrying his Democratic opponent, fellow King County Council member Bob Ferguson. But the TV ads were clumsy. Ferguson kept his powder dry, counterattacked effectively over the airwaves and outworked Dunn.
(Nobody outworks Bob Ferguson.)
Ferguson defeated statewide Dunn by a margin of 203,000 votes, beating him in King County by 272,000 votes. No Republican challenged Ferguson in 2016.
The Dunns have done just a bit to put distance between themselves and knuckle draggers in the Republican Party.
Jennifer Dunn was pro-choice, won her first primary by beating far-right State Senator Pam Roach. She held a junior post in the House Republican leadership. She once even cast a vote against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Reagan Dunn has attempted similar footwork, telling The Seattle Times that he accepts that Joe Biden was the legitimately elected President, but saying he would have voted against impeaching Donald Trump last January. (Two of the state’s three Republican U.S. House members, Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, were among the ten Republicans voting to impeach.)
Reagan Dunn supported adding land in eastern King County to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, giving designation to the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and delivering a National Heritage Designation to the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway. The Alpine Lakes addition was proposed by Reichert and carried across the finish line by Senator Patty Murray.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has Schrier in its sights. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was quick to deliver a boilerplate press release denouncing “Dunn’s doomed bid for WA-08.” These are clear signs that a multi-million-dollar slugfest for the seat is in the offing.
The Democratic Party in Seattle and King County have lately been focused on local races, with legislative district party organizations at times endorsing Democrats over other Democrats in local races that don’t have party labels listed on the ballot. The 8th Congressional District offers the party a major challenge. Dunn’s candidacy is far from “doomed.” He is a familiar name on the ballot.
It is worth remembering that Republican Representatives Rod Chandler, Jennifer Dunn and Dave Reichert won eighteen straight elections before Reichert packed it in and Kim Schrier captured the seat. The 8th CD race in 2022 will be, to borrow Joe Biden’s most famous line, a big (expletive) deal.