Friday, June 27, 2008

Washington 8: August Dress Rehearsal

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Democratic and Republican strategists won’t have to wait until November to test the political strength of at least one vulnerable House Republican. Because of the state of Washington’s new “Top 2” primary, Rep. Dave Reichert (R) will face off against 2006 nominee Darcy Burner (D) on Aug. 19.

In the new system, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the November general election. But unlike the old Louisiana system, it doesn’t matter whether a candidate passes the 50 percent threshold in the primary. The top two advance anyway.

In 2004, Evergreen State voters passed Initiative 872, putting the system in place, and the United States Supreme Court upheld it in March. The primary is open, which means voters do not have to choose a party affiliation.

Some Republican candidates are trying to take advantage of another wrinkle in the system that allows candidates to self-identify their party. Candidates can state their party preference, which will appear behind their name on the ballot, regardless of what party they are actually a part of.

For example, 2004 gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi chose “Prefers G.O.P. Party,” in his rematch against Gov. Christine Gregoire, who “Prefers Democratic Party.” First district, no-shot challenger Larry Ishmael also chose “Prefers G.O.P. Party,” despite its redundancy.

Reichert, on the other hand, is going with the standard “Prefers Republican Party,” as is 5th district Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. But Reichert has a much more difficult re-election fight on his hands.

In 2006, the Congressman was re-elected to a second term, 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent. Burner never really stopped running and is outpacing Reichert in available campaign funds in a suburban district that Democrats would love to have in their column. Through March 31, both candidates raised almost $1.4 million, but Burner had $922,000 on hand compared with $698,000 for Reichert.

It’s unclear how much stock the candidates or parties will put in the results of the August primary. But the new system will give strategists and observers real votes to mull over, instead of just polls.

This item first appeared on on June 25, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.