Is Dave Reichert's Seat Safe?

An upstart challenger produces a poll which says no.

The perception is accepted as fact at this point: Washington's recently redrawn 8th Congressional District was crafted into a Republican safe haven, an area impossible for Democrats to steal from the grips of Congressman Dave Reichert come November. But little-known Democrat Karen Porterfield got her hands on some information that turned that perception on its head, which led her to formally announce her candidacy for Reichert's seat two weeks ago.

Porterfield, who grew up in the Rainier Valley and touts a lengthy resume working for area nonprofits, was initially told to avoid the 8th like the plague. Once Reichert's district was redrawn to stretch from South King County to Wenatchee, friends and political advisers consistently told Porterfield that a Democrat didn't stand a chance. "I did receive condolence calls," says Porterfield.

But since the district is basically new, Porterfield wanted more information. So she dropped $25,000 on a poll from McGuire Research Services, a Las Vegas–based company that conducts interviews in Spanish as well as English.

The poll, which surveyed 400 people in the 8th Congressional District from January 29–31, revealed some startling results. One question, standard in polls of this type, asked voters whether Reichert should be re-elected or replaced—with 43.8 percent responding that Reichert should be replaced and only 33.5 percent feeling that the sitting congressman deserved re-election. Porterfield's political consultant, Tom Hujar, says that an incumbent considered "safe" typically polls in the neighborhood of 55 percent favoring re-election, with anything under that becoming "dicey."

Information suggesting that the 8th has its issues with Reichert wasn't the only surprising good news the Porterfield campaign received: Constituents polled responded that, "everything being equal," they'd tend to vote for a Democratic congressional candidate 44 percent of the time as compared to 37.3 percent for a Republican, and that 31 percent identify as Democrats and 27.5 as Republicans—while 36.5 percent identify as independents.

"I thought it was going to be more Republican," says Porterfield of her surprise over the poll results and what they say about the 8th District, a sentiment echoed by Hujar, who says he initially recommended that Porterfield stay out of the race.

Hujar notes there are still "plenty of hills to climb." With Reichert certain to have a substantial financial advantage, Hujar says Porterfield's campaign will rely on creativity and social media. And, says the candidate, "a lot of doorbelling."

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