Hilary Franz and Emily Randall
Hilary Franz (top) and Emily Randall (bottom) are each vying to succeed Derek Kilmer as the next United States Representative from Washington's 6th Congressional District (Campaign publicity photos)

A new era of back-to-back polit­i­cal cam­paign­ing has gen­er­at­ed a cease­less con­test for endorse­ments, par­tic­u­lar­ly when an incum­bent retires, and a cov­et­ed office comes open.  Just look at, and try to keep track of, who’s sup­port­ing who in the sur­pris­ing­ly com­pet­i­tive con­test for Wash­ing­ton’s 6th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict this year. 

The Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Fire Fight­ers has endorsed the can­di­da­cy of Hilary Franz, who cur­rent­ly serves as Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands. But the South Kit­sap Fire Fight­ers have giv­en their bless­ing to Franz and State Sen­a­tor Emi­ly Randall. 

The Low­er Elwha S’Kallam Indi­an tribe is back­ing Franz while a Jamestown S’Kallam endorse­ment dec­o­rates the Ran­dall website.

The Franz cam­paign recent­ly pil­lo­ried Ran­dal­l’s cam­paign for incor­rect­ly claim­ing endorse­ments from the Low­er S’Kallam and the Lum­mi Nation.

“We have seen how Hilary part­ners with trib­al nations to fight cli­mate change, restore salmon habi­tat and strength­en our com­mu­ni­ties and trib­al treaty rights,” said a state­ment from Fran­cis Charles of the Low­er Elwha tribe.

Franz and Ran­dall, both Democ­rats, are bat­tling for the U.S. House seat being vacat­ed by retir­ing Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Derek Kilmer. A sim­i­lar con­test is under­way among Repub­li­cans in East­ern Wash­ing­ton for the seat of Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, who’s hang­ing it up after twen­ty years in Con­gress rep­re­sent­ing the 5th Dis­trict.

Such posi­tions don’t often come open. 

Incum­ben­cy car­ries with it great advan­tages. Since the Gin­grich “rev­o­lu­tion” of 1994, only two-House mem­bers of Wash­ing­ton’s con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion have been unseat­ed, most recent­ly Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler in South­west Wash­ing­ton’s 3rd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. The team of Unit­ed States Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell have held office for twen­ty-four years, with Cantwell heav­i­ly favored to retain her seat this year.

As well, Wash­ing­ton and Cal­i­for­nia have adopt­ed elec­toral sys­tems where the top two can­di­dates move on to the gen­er­al elec­tion, even if they are of the same par­ty. The sys­tem has served up bat­tles between left-lean­ing Democ­rats in the Puget Sound area.  An exam­ple was the unsuc­cess­ful attempt by Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee to oust a pro-busi­ness Demo­c­rat, State Sen­a­tor Mark Mul­let, from the Leg­is­la­ture. (Inslee’s can­di­date, Ingrid Ander­son, came close, los­ing by only a few dozen votes.) Mean­while, Repub­li­cans are vying to sound more con­ser­v­a­tive on the far side of the “Cas­cade curtain.”

Endorse­ments don’t always res­onate with vot­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en the decline of news­pa­per cir­cu­la­tion. In 2012, most of the state’s dailies backed Repub­li­can Rea­gan Dun­n’s run for Attor­ney Gen­er­al. He was, how­ev­er, out­worked by Demo­c­rat Bob Fer­gu­son. The Seat­tle Times went all out for Repub­li­can guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Rob McKen­na, only to see Seat­tle and King Coun­ty vot­ers pro­vide the win­ning mar­gin for Demo­c­rat Inslee.

The Stranger’s endorse­ment has long been cov­et­ed. The pub­li­ca­tion was a long­time cham­pi­on of Social­ist Alter­na­tive Coun­cilmem­ber Kshama Sawant, who won sev­er­al con­sec­u­tive city­wide and dis­trict-based coun­cil elec­tions. Late­ly, how­ev­er, it has backed the los­er in three suc­ces­sive Seat­tle may­oral elec­tions. And there was quite the to-do when Jim McDer­mott retired and the 7th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict seat came open. A pair of Democ­rats fought it out. The edi­to­r­i­al board backed Prami­la Jaya­pal while promi­nent colum­nist Dan Sav­age pro­mot­ed Jaya­pal’s oppo­nent Brady Walkinshaw. 

At times, how­ev­er, endorse­ments can be telling.

Long­time Repub­li­can back­ers of Her­rera Beut­ler could not stand ultra MAGA extrem­ist Joe Kent, who eclipsed her in the 2022 Top Two elec­tion along with Demo­c­ra­t­ic hope­ful Marie Glue­senkamp Perez. They pub­licly defect­ed to MGP’s can­di­da­cy. She was elect­ed to Con­gress in one of the year’s notable upsets.

 A decade ago, in Wash­ing­ton’s 4th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, retired Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Slade Gor­ton helped round up sup­port for the more con­ven­tion­al con­ser­v­a­tive Dan New­house. New­house was pit­ted against Tea Par­ty activist (and for­mer NFL tight end) Clint Didi­er in an all-Repub­li­can gen­er­al elec­tion. Kooky state­ments by Didi­er were dis­played, help­ing New­house to a nar­row win. New­house will need such help again. He is fac­ing a Trump-endorsed ultra MAGA chal­lenger, Jer­rod Sessler, in this year’s election.

Influ­en­tial endorse­ments have changed over time, too.

The Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion poured resources into beat­ing back a 1997 gun safe­ty ini­tia­tive. Since then, aid­ed by wealthy con­trib­u­tors,  gun safe­ty advo­ca­cy groups have passed three statewide ini­tia­tives, in 2014, 2016, and 2018, and fol­lowed that up with a series of bills passed out of the Leg­is­la­ture. Last year, Wash­ing­ton became the tenth state to ban the sale and man­u­fac­ture of assault weapons.

The envi­ron­men­tal move­ment has also demon­strat­ed its clout. Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Action has giv­en a big boost to King Coun­ty Coun­cil mem­ber Dave Upthe­grove in his bid to suc­ceed Franz as the state’s Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands. Just a few days after that endorse­ment was decid­ed, State Sen­a­tor Rebec­ca Sal­daña sus­pend­ed her cam­paign for the job.

Fuse Wash­ing­ton has been a force in the elec­toral are­na with its Pro­gres­sive Vot­er Guide, iden­ti­fy­ing and pro­fil­ing can­di­dates endorsed by labor, envi­ron­men­tal and LGBTQ+ groups. It pro­vides a notable boost to con­tenders in down­bal­lot races, for such jobs as city coun­cil and coun­ty com­mis­sion­er. Its goal is shift­ing the local bal­ance of pow­er, demon­strat­ed by rejec­tion of an oil export ter­mi­nal pro­posed for Amer­i­ca’s Van­cou­ver and the big Gate­way Pacif­ic coal ship­ment port planned north of Bellingham.

The endorse­ments chase has pro­duced one notable flop in Wash­ing­ton con­gres­sion­al races this cen­tu­ry. Prami­la Jaya­pal has per­haps the safest U.S. House seat any­where, but the chair of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus has been unable to expand her base in the region. Jaya­pal poured resources into the 2020 cam­paign of State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Beth Doglio, who was sound­ly defeat­ed by for­mer Taco­ma May­or Mar­i­lyn Strickland. 

A year lat­er, an endorse­ment from Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders failed to help Seat­tle may­oral can­di­date Lore­na González, who lost in a land­slide to Bruce Har­rell.

Back to the 6th Dis­trict, where a bat­tle of big Demo­c­ra­t­ic names is brew­ing. Kilmer and retired Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Norm Dicks are in the Franz camp, while Sen­a­tor Mur­ray and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Glue­senkamp Perez are back­ing Randall. 

Vot­ers from Taco­ma to Cape Flat­tery will have to make up their own minds.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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