Republican Rep. Dave Reichert is facing a challenge from Democrat Darcy Burner in Washington state.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 9/5/2006 2:59:21 PM ET 2006-09-05T18:59:21

With two months to go until the election, Democrats are feeling confident they’ll win enough seats to gain control of the House of Representatives.

But even so, some Democrats can’t rid themselves of a nagging worry that somehow before the votes are cast, the Republicans will find a way to use terrorism and national security issues to once again get the upper hand, as they did in the 2002 and 2004 elections.

You could hear that anxiety at a fundraising event for Democratic congressional candidate Darcy Burner in the upper-income Seattle suburb of Medina last week.

Burner, a former Microsoft executive who has never before run for public office, is challenging first-term Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, the former sheriff of King County, in Washington state’s 8th congressional district.

“I’m disturbed at the way the Republicans have managed to frame the debate on national security,” Don Fels told Burner. “There in fact are people who’d like to kill us and we give them pretty much every day more reasons to want to kill us. The real issue of national security is never going to be the sheriff’s approach. We can’t put the world in jail. We have to find a way to do the right thing in the world, so that people come to the conclusion that they don’t want to kill us.”

“But the debate is never about that,” Fels added, sounding frustrated. “As long as the discussion is always about defending ourselves, the Democrats have no place to jump in because he (President Bush) always claims, ‘bad stuff is going to happen. And I’ve saved the day.’”

Fels told Burner the Democrats’ focus ought to be, “why people are angry with us” and how Americans can “persuade them that maybe there are things about our country that they should like, instead of hate.”

Burner replied with a veteran politician’s caution, “That’s the sort of argument Republicans like to make fun of – which is not to say it is not completely meritful.”

She derided the Bush administration for what she called its belief in “cowboy justice.”

She explained, “What we want is an international community that works together toward a better, more peaceful world in which basic human rights are respected universally, and in which war is impossible because the international community doesn’t allow it to happen.”

Demographics and Democrats
On Iraq, Burner opposes an indefinite U.S. troop deployment, but also opposes a cut-off of funding for the deployment, an idea proposed by 17 House Democrats. Withdrawal needs to be done “in a way that doesn’t results in millions of deaths of Iraqi civilians,” she said.

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Burner, 35, the mother of a three-year old son, is trying to win in a district that stretches 60 miles from the upper-income Seattle suburbs on the north to Mount Rainier on the southern end.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry carried the district in 2004, with 51 percent of the vote – one fact that gives Democrats hope that this should be a seat Burner wins.

On roll call votes in 2005, Reichert voted to support President Bush’s position 86 percent of the time – which at least on paper doesn’t seem to square with the district’s Kerry preference.

The district’s northern part is upper-income suburban and tends to be more Democratic; its southern rural/exurban part is more Republican and it is in that part that Burner must break even, or come close to doing so, in order to defeat Reichert.

“I got her mailer, with the photo of her and her son,” said Republican Pam Roach, a 16-year veteran of the state senate and a Reichert supporter, whose legislative district overlaps part of the southern portion of the congressional district. “My reaction was: ‘If you’re elected, when are you going to spend time with your child?’ She has one baby; will she have two or three more?” People in the district, Roach said, demand full-time representation.

“My reaction was ‘why don’t you just take care of your child and grow up a bit and then think about running for office?’”

'Where are your credentials?'
Even Democrats worry that Burner, at age 35, looks and sounds like she’s much younger.

Roach also argued that Burner’s résumé is too thin. “She says that her brother served in the Army and went to Iraq. OK – what else? I look at her and I think ‘where are your credentials?’ We don’t need somebody in training,” snapped Roach.

Burner calls for “making sure that every six year-old in the country can get a decent education” and “making sure that every American who needs health care can get it and get it affordably.”

Asked whose taxes she would raise to pay for this, Burner replied, “Oh, that’s such a loaded question!”

She added, “The middle class and the poor are really struggling and their taxes should probably be reduced.” And she said those Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more should “probably” have their federal taxes increased.

(Burner agreed to an interview for this story, but Reichert’s campaign spokesman said he did not have time for an interview.)

The stem cell issue
Reichert has gained notoriety for his decision to switch his vote on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. 

When the issue first came to a floor vote in May 2005, Reichert voted “no,” but after Bush vetoed the bill, Reichert changed his stance and on July 19 he voted to override the veto.

He explained that when he’d first voted in 2005, “there were no congressional hearings beforehand and the information made available to members of Congress was not adequate.”

So after further study he decided to switch. Burner has a disparaging view of his change of heart. “He’s clearly been looking at polling of the district,” she said. “He’s frightened by the prospect he might be defeated.”

Reichert is defined by his law enforcement background as King County sheriff. He serves as chairman of the Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee.

In a speech last week, Reichert went from a somber discussion of the terrorist threat to a goofy joke without shifting gears.

“Just a few weeks ago, 24 people were arrested for planning to take ten airplanes to the United States and attack us again,” he told a crowd at a GOP fundraising event in Bellevue. “It’s a changed world; sometimes we take our freedoms for granted. Sometimes things happen that cause you to pause for a moment and really think about our freedom.”

Up to that point, he’d struck an appropriately serious tone, but then he told the crowd he recalled seeing an announcement on a message board on Interstate highway 405 which read “Sea-Tac Airport Alert. No hair gels, no liquids allowed on carry-on baggage.”

He said, “Then it hit me: One of my freedoms taken away; hair gel is very important to me,” he said gesturing to his superbly coiffured gray hair. He got a big laugh from the crowd.

As chairman of the Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee, Reichert shepherded through a bill that requires a Department of Homeland Security official to oversee work on interoperable communications systems so that first responders can talk to each other.

But the bill doesn’t in itself build those systems.

Burner dismissed the measure: “It would create an additional bureaucratic spot in the Department of Homeland Security to study the problem….”

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