Washington’s 1st Congressional District is supposed to be swing-voter territory, but so far it looks as though Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene has little reason to fear a major Republican challenge in 2014.
While Republicans are well on their way to targeting vulnerable Democratic incumbents in other parts of the country, the GOP has no obvious prospects in the 1st District. A few names tossed around by local GOP leaders have not panned out. And national political analysts are starting to write the race off.
The influential “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics plans to list DelBene’s seat as “safe Democratic” in its new rankings of 2014 House contests to be released Thursday. It had previously listed the race as “leans Democratic.”
“The bottom line is that Republicans have many more attractive targets across the country,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the Crystal Ball, said in an email, noting that DelBene is an “intimidating” target for the GOP because of the former Microsoft executive’s vast personal wealth.
The district, which stretches from Redmond and Kirkland north across more rural territory to the Canadian border, showed mixed loyalties in 2012. It went for Rob McKenna with 52 percent support in the governor’s race but backed President Obama with 54 percent of the vote.
Susan Hutchison, newly elected chairman of the state Republican Party, said “we think it’s a Republican district” and vowed the GOP will find a viable candidate.
“We’re going to mount a serious challenge, I can tell you that,” she said. “There are some exciting people who are talking about it.”
But Hutchison declined to name any of the party’s prospects and those mentioned by other GOP leaders as possible candidates have not stepped forward.
GOP officials have met with Pedro Celis, a retired Microsoft engineer who co-chaired the Mitt Romney campaign’s steering committee in the state in 2008. But in an interview, Celis said he’s not inclined to run. State Sen. Andy Hill has also been mentioned, but officials said they don’t believe he’s ready to make the leap yet. (Hill didn’t return phone calls.)
Snohomish County Councilman John Koster, who lost to DelBene last year, said he’s not planning another try. After his 2012 loss, Koster blamed national Republican leaders for essentially ceding the district to Democrats by failing to back him with campaign cash. (State and national Republican leaders disagreed, blaming the Koster campaign.) Koster said he’s worried the GOP is going to skip the district again.
“I still believe it is very much a swing district,” Koster said. But if a challenge is going to emerge, “you’ve got to do it soon.”
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who helped draw the new 1st District boundaries during redistricting in 2011, said 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for Republicans generally. But he acknowledged the difficulty in finding a viable candidate to challenge DelBene.
“That person will either have to have money of his or her own, or there will have to be an extraordinary fundraising effort and third-party intervention,” Gorton said, referring to outside GOP allied groups that pour money into competitive congressional races nationally.
Kondik said there is still time for Republicans to field a candidate. “However, many of the competitive House races across the country have already begun to take shape. If no one emerges in the next couple months in WA-1, it could end up being a pretty sleepy race.”