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Battle for the House: WA-8

Voters in Washington state's 8th district have never elected a Democrat. So why is WA-8 on the DCCC's list of targets this November? Good question. One reason is that the district went slightly in favor of John Kerry in 2004 (51-48) and Al Gore in 2000 (49-47). Another is that Democrats think they have found a credible challenger to first-term Republican Dave Reichert in former Microsoft project manager Darcy Burner. One final bright spot is that with help from the DCCC and the Internet left, Ms. Burner out raised Mr. Reichert in the first quarter of this year, $334,000 to $268,000.

But that's about where the good news ends. In 2004, Mr. Reichert ran 4 points better than Mr. Bush in the district, retaining an open GOP seat by beating popular radio talk show host Dave Ross 52-47 in a race many thought would be closer. Mr. Reichert is also dominating the money race: he raised more than a $1.1 million last year, causing his campaign manager to declare in January, "A war chest of this size will put this race out of reach." Mr. Reichert holds 2-1 cash on hand advantage over Ms. Burner, notwithstanding her Q1 performance.

Ms. Burner and the DCCC want to portray Mr. Reichert as too conservative for the district and a rubber stamp for President Bush who is extremely unpopular in Washington. But that will also be a tall order: Mr. Reichert has demonstrated an independent streak during his freshman term, voting against his party on the Terri Schiavo resolution and drilling in ANWR, the latter being an issue voters in the Evergreen State are unlikely to hold against him no matter how high gas prices might climb this summer.

For his part, Mr. Reichert wants to exploit the "stature gap" with Ms. Burner. He is a 30-year law enforcement veteran who rose to prominence by helping capture the Green River Killer in 2001. Mr. Reichert is also the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, making him one of only six members in the history of the House to head a subcommittee in their freshman term. Republicans are eager to contrast their candidate with the 35-year old Burner, whom they describe as a political neophyte and "part time liberal activist" who should be running for city council, not Congress.

The reality is that despite all the rhetoric, Washington 8 is not a top tier pick up opportunity for the Democrats. This is a seat that will only flip if they have a big night in November, and even though that is where some Democrats hope they are headed, right now it remains little more than a possibility.