Our Voice: Race for 4th Congressional District sure to be a wild election

February 22, 2014 

Nothing draws a crowd like an open congressional seat.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings' recently announced that he won't seek an 11th term and attracted more politicians than a lobbyist-sponsored open bar.

We're not complaining. A crowded field means plenty of choices for voters in Washington's 4th Congressional District. But it also means an informed vote will require a lot of homework.

Filing week isn't until May and the primary isn't until August, so the field will remain in flux for months to come. Even so, it's not too early to start thinking about your vote.

The candidates aren't waiting. When former state Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse declared his candidacy Thursday, it marked the fourth consecutive day that a Republican candidate officially announced a run for the seat.

Former pro football player and Eltopia farmer Clint Didier announced he will run on Monday, Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck on Tuesday and state Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake on Wednesday.

Republican Gavin Seim of Ephrata has also said he will run, as has independent Josh Ramirez of Pasco. Republicans state Sen. Sharon Brown and attorney George Cicotte, both of Kennewick, have set up exploratory committees for the election.

We're encouraging readers to start thinking about the primary for a couple of reasons.

Most importantly, whoever is elected to replace Hastings is likely to remain in Congress for a long time. The power of incumbency in the 4th District is a formidable obstacle to challengers.

Hastings will have served in the House 20 years when his term ends, and there is no reason to think he wouldn't have won re-election if he chose to run again.

The district has had nine representatives since it was created in 1915 -- six Republicans and three Democrats. Only two served fewer than five terms, and both were special cases.

Our first congressman, Republican William Leery La Follette, served four terms, but two were from the 3rd Congressional District before redistricting moved him to the 4th, where he served for two more terms.

Democrat Jay Inslee had the shortest tenure, serving just one term from the 4th District. He beat Hastings in 1992, after then-inumbent Sid Morrison stepped down to run an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign.

Inslee lost in a rematch against Hastings two years later. Some special circumstances doomed his re-election bid. For starters, it was tough times for any Democrat during the Republican Revolution of 1994. On top of that, Inslee's vote for the Federal Assault Weapons Ban alienated a lot union members and blue-collar workers who might otherwise have supported him.

Odds are, our next representative to Congress won't face similar circumstances to doom his or her re-election. More likely, whoever wins in November will represent us in Washington, D.C., for a decade or more. Please choose with care.

Washington's top-two primary system presents another interesting twist for the 4th District race. The top two vote-getters in the primary advance to the general, regardless of party.

The way things are shaping up, it appears as if the broad field of Republican candidates will spread GOP voters so thin that a Democrat on the primary ballot would have a good shot at making the general election despite the 4th District's deeply red nature.

If two Democrats were to evenly split the 30 percent to 40 percent of the voters who typically vote Democratic, and 10 Republicans evenly split the remaining votes, we could even see two Democrats facing off in the general.

It's unlikely but possible -- anything is possible in such a wide open race.

It's certain to be a fascinating election season for political wonks, and an important election for everyone in the 4th District.

Our recommendation? Pay close attention.

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