The way Darcy Burner breezed breathlessly into Uptown Espresso one recent gray Wednesday, you'd think it was October of an election year—not April a year and a half out. By her own admission, the towheaded Democrat, who last month filed papers to take on 8th Congressional District Rep. Dave Reichert again in 2008, is on a homestretch pace.
"We have  months. But I'm running a sprint, not a marathon. We'll hit our stride at some point, but there's so much to do right now," she says, before tossing her bag down and running back to retrieve a hot chocolate. (Hot chocolate, she says, because she's already latted-out from multiple campaign-related coffee dates that day.)
Burner may have taken a short break—a trip to Disneyland with her husband and 4-year-old son, Henry—after losing to Reichert in November by 3 percentage points, but the race for the 8th never really ended. "It is more like continuing it than starting over," she says. In addition to filing in March, Burner has already been back to D.C. to meet with Democratic kingmakers and is actively dialing for dollars.
On the home front, Burner says she's working 14- to 16-hour days, and admits there are pros and cons to getting in so early. "But at the end of the day, people wanted to know; and they wanted to know sooner rather than later," she says.
Blair Butterworth, who's working as a consultant on Burner's campaign, seconds this.
"We didn't dare be excessively coy and lose momentum and enthusiasm, or open the door for another rabbit to hop in," he says.
"It did feel like the campaign was continuous," says fund-raising guru Colby Underwood, who helped Burner drum up donations in 2006 and has signed on to work with her again. "I didn't work for Darcy for about two months," he adds with a chuckle.
Burner's not alone in her early entry strategy: Four hopefuls, including Burner, have already filed—each to run for one of Washington's nine House seats in 2008. In another rematch, Republican Doug Roulstone is challenging Rep. Rick Larsen in the 2nd District; Democrat George Fearing has filed against Rep. Doc Hastings in the 4th; and Democrat Peter Goldmark will once again try to unseat Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the 5th.
Even though it's his bread and butter, Underwood says that ever more continuous campaign cycles aren't healthy—for anyone. "I feel firmly that we have a problem with campaign finance in this country," he says. "Another thing I'm concerned about is donor fatigue. I have many donors in this area who feel like an ATM machine. They say, 'Colby, I don't want to talk to any candidates in the first six months of the year.'"
But Butterworth says it's not just the contenders who are starting early. "With the early daylight savings, it was like we sprung forward on steroids. Everything is early this year," he says. "In D.C., the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, labor, everyone started early, saying, 'Are you going to run again?'"
Indeed, if you missed the dates on recent DCCC press releases, you'd think it was campaign crunch time instead of the postelection doldrums. "Rep. Reichert Opposed Pay Raise for Hard Working Washingtonians," "Will Rep. Dave Reichert Support Our Veterans?" "Rep. Reichert Gave the President a Blank Check for Iraq: Troops' Tours Extended," declare the organization's media missives.
Fernando Cuevas, the DCCC's Western regional press secretary, says a Burner-Reichert rematch is one of the organization's highest '08 priorities. "We are up and running at this point," he says. "It is very early, but at the same time, this is a district we feel the Democrats can do very well in, judging by the numbers we had during the last election."
Burner, a former Microsoft manager with a computer science degree from Harvard, emerged from political obscurity to become one of her party's rising stars in 2006. Despite her lack of name recognition, she raised more than $3 million (and about $35,000 more than one-term incumbent Reichert). In the end, Burner lost by 7,341 votes. If she's able to reverse her fortunes in '08, Burner would be the first Democrat to represent the 8th Congressional District, which includes Bellevue, Mercer Island, and eastern King and Pierce counties, since it was created in 1982.
The DCCC isn't the only group that's paying attention: Greenpeace has put the Reichert-Burner face-off high on their "Project Hot Seat" list. "The idea is to basically mobilize thousands of citizens in six House districts to force our politicians to address global warming and focus on real solutions," says Erin Hickok, city coordinator for Greenpeace's Seattle outreach office.
Hickok adds that representatives from Greenpeace in D.C. have met with Reichert in the past couple of months. And the congressman has also gotten together with folks from MoveOn.org "and every anti-war group that wants to see him," says his chief of staff, Mike Shields.
Reichert declined to be interviewed regarding the 2008 race. "The congressman is busy being a congressman," Shields says, though he concedes that there are certain campaign-related things House members are always doing. "You always raise money. You're always in an election cycle. By the same token, people are always generating attack [press] releases. It starts to tell you something about them. They target this district. They aren't concerned with the policies that are being put forth."
Shields says these attacks mischaracterize Reichert as conservative, and someone who agrees with the president most of the time. The reality, he says, is that Reichert has voted with the Democrats a number of times since the start of the new legislative session. A quick search of roll-call votes shows that Reichert has indeed voted for the Democrat-sponsored energy bill (one of 36 Republicans out of 201 in the House to do so), implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations (one of only 68 Republicans), authorization of stem cell research (one of 37 Republicans), and an increase in the minimum wage (one of 82 Republicans).
Shields says these votes genuinely reflect Reichert's beliefs, and in no way represent postelection or pre-campaign posturing. The fact that the 2008 race has already started "doesn't change anything," says Shields, adding that Reichert's been ranked by D.C.'s National Journal as the most centrist member of Washington's delegation.
"David has a certain approach to his job," Shields says. "[The attacks] come with the territory. You know you're in a tough media market and in a district where the other side is going to attack you, but you can't be obsessed. He's going to work every day, meeting with every group."
But Burner interprets such olive-branch gestures a bit differently. "He's clearly deeply frightened," she says. "I think that's apparent in his behavior. There's a difference between being a centrist and being principled. Voting on both sides of the issue isn't being centrist."
It may sound like October, but don't touch that calendar. It is April 2007—19 months and counting to Election Day.