There’s been a lot of online sadness in the blogosphere over Darcy Burner’s concession in the race in Washington’s Eighth District, as well there should be. In any other district, I don’t think I’d feel compelled to write add one more post-mortem, but my two cents might actually be worth three or four cents, seeing as how I spend a big part of my time in this district (I live in Seattle, but I spend eight hours a day slaving over a hot computer in Bellevue).
One of the main contentions that I’ve seen elsewhere is that the Seattle Times threw the election with its last minute hit piece on Burner’s academic credentials. While it was pretty lazy, poorly researched journalism and it certainly didn’t help Burner’s cause (although their subsequent follow-up article about Reichert’s own rather underwhelming academic background may actually have helped her), I can’t see this having turned the election. In my gut, it seems more like something that turned quickly into the usual ‘he said, she said’ noise that dominates horse-race coverage and riles up the partisans but whooshes right past low-information voters. It may have been the decisive moment for a few undecideds, but I can’t see it making 8,000 votes worth of difference.
Beyond my gut, there’s also the matter that the numbers for this race right now are almost identical to those from two years ago (51.5-48.5) despite the injection of a lot more voters in a presidential year. It doesn’t seem like the needle moved much over two years… which to me suggests that the ‘lack of [elective] experience’ meme, which did Burner in last time, continued to be top-of-mind. There’s also the matter of polls: the one poll that had trendlines representing both before and after the Seattle Times story, the Daily Kos-sponsored Research 2000 poll, gave Reichert an 8-pt lead before the story and found the race a tie after. (Granted, there was an economic crisis somewhere in there too, so there may have been competing currents at work.) Finally, in my own experience phonebanking in the days before the election, I never ran into anyone who said the degree flap was an issue (although in comments mcjoan claims to have experienced it a lot, so your mileage may vary).
More over the flip…
One other sentiment I saw a lot in comments on this race is that it’s just a hard district for Democrats. Again, I’d have to disagree with that; it’s a D+2.3 district, and as we saw a few days ago, this is the fourth most Democratic-leaning district in the country that still has a Republican representative. What we have here is an opponent who is unusually well-tailored for the district instead. My sense is that there are at least three different mini-districts competing in this district: Bellevue, which is increasingly diverse and full of younger tech professionals (and becoming more liberal, like many other 50s-era inner-ring suburbs); further out suburbs like Sammamish and Issaquah which are more dominated by older, more economically conservative voters (many of whom are probably voted for Obama, but are ticket-splitters who remember the once-dominant northwestern moderate Republicanism and will opt for someone who promises to restore that); and the rural/exurban reaches of the district, which tend to be more right-wing, albeit in a backwoodsy libertarian/leave-me-alone way.
Reichert’s unusual skill is that he manages to appeal to two of those camps: he’s macho and law-and-order enough to appeal to the rural areas (and more blue-collar suburbs built around Boeing machinists, like Auburn, where Reichert is originally from)… but he also has the moderate, bipartisan Dan Evans-Republican schtick (in part from his many years as King County Sheriff, a nonpartisan position where he seemed to get along well enough with the county’s Democratic leadership) that appeals to the older suburbanites. Burner obviously plays well to the other younger, techy part of the district, but that’s about it.
For 2010, there are several state legislators in the district who might be better at taking the fight onto Reichert’s turf. State senators Rodney Tom (who started to explore running in the primary this year, but quickly jumped out when overwhelmed by Burner’s national fundraising capacity) and Fred Jarrett both seem to have more appeal to the economically conservative but socially tolerant and pro-environment ticket-splitting types who used to dominate this district. In fact, they both started out in the State House as moderate Republicans, and have been pretty solidly progressive since switching parties once the magnitude of how insane Republican leadership has become in the Bush years became apparent to them. I think many residents of this district would identify with that evolution and would tend to view that as sensible rather than opportunism or flip-flopping. State representative Chris Hurst, on the other hand, is a veteran and a resident of the district’s rural southern end; he would play stronger in Reichert’s strongest turf and counteract Reichert’s own tough-guy image.
Which isn’t to say that Burner should disappear; far from it. If she’s really serious about elective office, she needs to start a little down the totem pole and build the legislative resume and local connections there… and there are still a few Republicans representing the Eastside in the state legislature who need to be eradicated. Unfortunately, her old house was located in the 45th LD, which currently elects all Democrats. However, I assume she’s in the market for a new house, and she might move a mile down the road to the 5th LD, which is further out in the sticks and still elects all Republicans, but rapidly filling in with suburban development. Unfortunately, she’d need to wait another 4 years to take on state senator Cheryl Pflug, but in two years she can take on representative Glenn Anderson, who just squeaked by (51-49) against some guy I’ve never heard of (David Spring). Or alternately, she’s in King County Council District 3, which is represented by moderate Republican Kathy Lambert, up for re-election in 2009. Either way, with her name rec and fundraising abilities, it would be an easier way to get her foot in the electoral door, and I think many voters for whom the ‘experience’ meme worked against her would actually be happy to see her reaffirm her commitment to public service, if at a lower pay grade.
(Unfortunately, there’s a possibility that by the time she cut her teeth some more, WA-08 would already be filled by another Democrat. One other possibility is that Washington may gain a 10th House seat after the 2010 census, in which case a new seat would probably include part of WA-08, which is one of the state’s fastest growing areas, so she might keep that in mind.)