A funny thing happened Friday when Karl Rove, the White House advisor, came to the Seattle suburbs to headline a fundraiser for freshman Republican Rep. Dave Reichert: The congressman did nothing to publicize the visit, and his challenger drew every bit of attention to it she could.
On the day Rove was in town, Darcy Burner, a former Microsoft Corp. executive who is Reichert’s Democratic opponent, issued her fifth news release of the week casting the visit in a negative light, and while Rove and Reichert were attending a round-table briefing for Republican donors, about 60 Burner supporters mugged for cameras outside.
But both of Rove’s appearances -- at the fundraiser and at the round table -- were private and closed to the media, so there were no news photographs of Reichert, 56, with campaign mastermind Rove.
For Burner, 35, who is making her first run for public office, there was an obvious strategy in focusing attention on a reliable Republican bogeyman in what state pollster Stuart Elway described as a “classic swing district.” The 8th District has voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections yet consistently has sent a Republican to the House.
The Reichert-Burner race in Seattle’s suburbs east of Lake Washington shows up on nearly every national list of competitive races, and the Rove fundraiser comes on the heels of campaign filings showing that the challenger has raised more money this year than the incumbent.
According to federal disclosure reports filed this month, Burner has raised about $1.2 million this year, Reichert $1 million -- which Burner cites as evidence of her campaign’s momentum and of a sense she gets in the district that “people are very disturbed about the direction of this country.”
On the other hand, Reichert campaign officials point out that the congressman has raised $2.2 million overall, much more than Burner, and that he has more cash on hand -- $1.1 million to Burner’s $728,000 -- an indicator of each side’s ability to buy ads going into the stretch run of the campaign.
“It’s very clear that the Democrats are building a war chest for a negative campaign that they really have already started,” said Reichert spokeswoman Carol Beaudu. “But we are right where we want to be, and it will go a long ways toward telling 8th District voters about Dave’s independent voting record.”
Reichert highlights his support for stem-cell research, and his opposition to drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to federal interference in the Terri Schiavo feeding-tube case, as examples of his willingness to buck party leaders.
Pollster Elway said that was a telling dynamic of the campaign: Democrats seem to be doing everything they can to tie Reichert to the Bush White House, and especially to the war in Iraq, whereas Reichert is taking pains to show that he’s willing to disagree with the president.
In a district like the 8th, Elway said, Burner is almost certain to benefit from a general discontent with President Bush. The question is how much.
“If the national tide is running strong with the Democrats, this is exactly the kind of race they could win,” he said. “If it’s not such a strong tide, then it’s a pretty good example of a place where a Republican could hang on, by emphasizing that he’s shown some independence from the administration.”
Some voters here indeed seem potentially swayed by the incumbent’s assertions of independence. “I like Reichert; he’s his own man,” said Dave Purdy, 39, an imaging-equipment salesman in Bellevue who voted for Reichert in 2004 and said he would probably do so again. But Purdy added that he wanted to learn more about Burner and would probably focus more on the race after the candidates’ debate next month.
Still, it is also clear there is a deep vein of discontent, especially over the Iraq war. Though Reichert appears more popular personally than Bush here, the discontent could hurt Reichert in November.
Reichert flew to Seattle from Washington, D.C., on Friday for the Rove events and to see his family (he and his wife of 36 years, Julie, have three children and six grandchildren), but he had no campaign appearances over the weekend and was not available for an interview, his spokeswoman said.
Burner, in an interview after a fundraising event of her own Thursday, said the war in Iraq had been an “incredible drain on [the nation’s] resources and our spirit” and that many voters “simply don’t believe that the war in Iraq is the same thing as the war on terror.”
But she stopped short of calling for an immediate withdrawal. Instead, she said, Bush “needs to go to the military leaders and say, ‘What is the plan for giving Iraq back to the Iraqis and bringing our troops home with honor?’ ”
Burner graduated from Harvard University, majoring in economics and computer science. She and her husband, Mike, have a 3-year-old son, Henry. She worked in software in Boston and Silicon Valley, Calif., before moving to the Seattle area in 1998.
She said she had strong ties to Washington state dating to childhood summers spent with her grandparents in Rochester, south of Olympia.
In campaign appearances, she mixes emotion and humor, saying public service is a calling in her family -- one brother served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne, a sister is a nurse, and another brother, she said, performs a vital duty too: He drives a delivery truck for Miller Brewing Co.