GOP challengers vie for chance to unseat Rep. Kim Schrier
SEATTLE (AP) — Three Republican challengers are mounting energetic campaigns to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier in Washington's 8th Congressional District, a key target of GOP efforts to retake control of the House.
Washington’s 8th District includes wealthy Seattle exurbs populated by tech workers. It stretches across the Cascade Mountains to central Washington farmland in Chelan and Kittitas counties, encompassing Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Ellensburg.
“This is the only legitimately competitive seat in Washington, and the only legitimately important race in terms of helping determine control of the House,” said Seattle University political science professor Patrick Schoettmer. “The most interesting thing about it is you have three real up-and-comers in the Republican Party of Washington.”
Army veteran Jesse Jensen, who ran unsuccessfully against Schrier in 2020; King County Council Member Reagan Dunn, a former federal prosecutor whose mother once held the seat; and former state attorney general candidate Matt Larkin are all hammering on inflation, high gas prices, crime and dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden ahead of the Aug. 2 primary.
“If this district goes Republican, it’s probably the case that the Republicans win the House,” Dunn said. “And if it doesn’t, then it might not.”
Schrier, the only Democrat to hold the seat since it was created in the early 1980s, is highlighting her pragmatic service to the district since her election in 2018.
She points to helping farmers access research grants, urging Biden to boost pay and benefits for wildland firefighters, and securing $92 million in federal money to upgrade roads around Wenatchee to improve safety, reduce congestion and better get the region's apples and cherries to market.
In light of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Schrier, a pediatrician, is also emphasizing something else: that she is “the only pro-choice woman doctor in Congress.” Democrats nationally are hoping outrage over the ruling could energize their voters and stem losses in November.
“It has changed the shape of this race,” Schrier said. “It’s made very clear there is a real threat to women and the ability of women to make their own incredibly important and incredibly personal health care decisions.”
Schrier, 53, the only Democrat in the race, is expected to finish in the top two spots to advance to the general election in November. The main question is which of the Republicans will claim the other top spot to challenge her.
Jensen leads the Republicans in fundraising, having taken in just over $1 million to Schrier's $6 million war chest. Larkin has raised $970,000, including $530,000 he loaned his campaign; Dunn, $833,000; and another Republican, Amazon program manager Scott Stephenson, $218,000, most of it his own money.
Jensen, 39, was a political newcomer when he challenged Schrier in 2020, losing by 3.6 percentage points. The son of a pastor and stay-at-home mother, he spent seven years in the Army, earning the rank of captain and two Bronze Stars during four combat tours in Afghanistan. He later worked for Microsoft and Amazon as well as serving as the regional operations director for a kidney dialysis company.
Last year, amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, he and Iowa state Sen. Zach Nunn — also a Republican congressional hopeful — formed Task Force Argo, one of several American volunteer groups helping to evacuate Americans and American allies from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Jensen said he raised about $200,000 to pay for buses and charter flights, and that among the more than 3,000 people the group helped leave the country was his former interpreter.
“We refused to leave anyone behind,” Jensen said, and that's become a mantra for his campaign. “I am going to fight for every single man, woman and child in the 8th District.”
Like Dunn and Larkin, he has been criticizing Schrier as a rubber-stamp for Biden's policies and blaming her and other Democrats for high inflation and gas prices, though economic experts say the causes of those issues are complicated and likely have more to do with the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal monetary policy and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Schrier has blamed high gas prices on price-gouging by oil companies; ExxonMobil, Chevron and others reported surging profits totaling more than $40 billion in the first quarter this year. Against unified Republican opposition, the House passed Schier's bill to crack down on the alleged practice, while the companies responded that oil is a global market and that they don’t dictate gas prices.
How the Republican side of the race turns out could well hinge on how concerned voters are about economic issues versus cultural ones, Schoettmer said.
Jensen and Larkin are Christian conservatives who oppose abortion, though Jensen said he would allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.
Dunn says the decision should be left to the woman, but in May he was the only member of the King County Council to vote against a symbolic measure affirming support for reproductive freedom. In an interview he said would not support federal legislation to reinstate abortion rights; if it must be regulated, it should be left to the states, he said.
More people care about the economy and crime, Dunn said. He noted that shootings and murders have skyrocketed in Washington, as they have in other parts of the U.S.
He cites his various roles with the Department of Justice, including as the national coordinator for the anti-gun-violence initiative Project Safe Neighborhoods during the tenure of President George W. Bush.
“The defund, disarm and disparage policies of a few years ago have turned out not to be working,” Dunn said. “People want to see reinvestment in the criminal justice system, including police and prosecutors and court systems that have been dramatically defunded.”
Dunn, 51, describes himself as a Ronald Reagan Republican — his parents named him for Reagan a decade before the the former actor and California governor became president. Dunn's mother, Jennifer Dunn, served six terms as the 8th District's representative, from 1993-2005.
Among his other priorities is supporting people with substance abuse disorders. A recovering alcoholic himself, he has been sober for five years.
Larkin, a lawyer, works for his family's company, Romac Industries, which makes parts for water pipes. He ran for attorney general in 2020, losing to Democrat Bob Ferguson, who has held the position since defeating Dunn in 2012.
Larkin has stressed talking points that echo some of former President Donald Trump's, with a campaign slogan that gained attention in conservative circles: “Make crime illegal again.”
Larkin's campaign did not respond to interview requests from The Associated Press.