The battle for the House of Representatives may be the widest-reaching in history. There are Democratic candidates running in almost every district, and winning back control of the lower chamber of Congress is the highest priority goal for the party. Their ability to cast a wide net is a key feature of their strategy.
With so many races, each with their own variables and idiosyncrasies, there are undoubtedly races we’re counting on flipping that won’t. And more importantly, there are races not getting a lot of attention that could. Washington’s 5th congressional district may be one of those.
When you think of Washington state you probably envision Amazon, Microsoft and a double nonfat skim almond milk latte with a splash of broccoli syrup. That’s the left side of the state. When you head east across the Cascade mountains, you’ll see a rural economy dominated by agriculture and key exports like apples and cherries. Seattle is famous for rain, a stereotype which is actually somewhat exaggerated. Much of eastern Washington has 300 sunny days per year.
There are 10 congressional districts in Washington state, and eight of them are primarily in the west with its greater population density, while the fourth and fifth are east of the Cascades. The fourth encompasses central Washington and is highly conservative and expected to stay red. The fifth is likely to be the most competitive it’s been in a generation.
The incumbent is Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who first won election in 2004 and is the highest ranking Republican woman in Congress. She’s won the seat by double digits every time running, regularly outperforming Republican presidential candidates along the way.
The Democratic challenger is Lisa Brown, a former Majority Leader in the State Senate and Chancellor for one of Washington State University’s campuses. She is undoubtedly the most qualified candidate to run in this district for a long time, and finished within four points in a very high turnout primary.
The district was once held by Tom Foley, a former Democratic Speaker of the House, and was won twice by President Clinton in the 1990’s. It’s trended more conservative since then, with President Obama losing by 6% in 2008 and in 2016 Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 13 points.
Rep. McMorris Rodgers won the primary 49-45%, which is a reason for optimism because two years ago she won the primary by 11 points. In a possible sign of changing times, Chancellor Brown actually won Spokane County (by far the largest in the district) by two points in the August primary, and did so with a higher than normal turnout from that relatively moderate county.
If you were going to work backwards to twist the numbers into a winning formula for Brown, a small win paired with a spike in turnout in Spokane County is how you’d do it.
Rep. McMorris-Rodgers is one of the few Republicans highlighting the unpopular GOP tax bill on the campaign trail, and referenced it often in their recent debate. She’s also somewhat fortunate Washington’s exports haven’t been hit quite as badly as other states by Trump’s tariffs.
Chancellor Brown opposed the tax bill on basis of its adding $1.5 trillion to the budget deficit, and has been campaigning on health care, infrastructure, education, net neutrality and equal rights.
Current polling is on the edge of the margin of error, with Brown trailing by 3-4%. The race is expected to remain close and is the best chance for Democrats to knock off a member of GOP leadership, other than Paul Ryan (who declined to run).
On a personal note, back in 2008 Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ office helped a liberal constituent and friend of the site get a ticket to President Obama’s inauguration. While that’s an anecdotal example, she doesn’t inflame the same level of passion against her that Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes and other Republicans in key leadership positions do.
However, she’s a key behind-the-scenes player in keeping the Republican House members in line. If you believe this Republican Congress has abdicated its responsibilities to their constituents and the nation, Rep. McMorris Rodgers has played a central role in allowing that happen.
Lisa Brown stepped down from a highly respected role as university chancellor to run. Rep. McMorris Rodgers is a member of the very unpopular Congressional leadership, and with the history of this seat as home of former Democratic Speaker Foley, this race would be a satisfying one for Democrats to claim.