The perception is accepted as fact at this point: Washington's redrawn 8th Congressional District was crafted into a Republican safe haven, an area impossible for Democrats to steal from the grips of Auburn's Dave Reichert come November. But Reichert's challenger, Karen Porterfield (who officially announced her candidacy last week), is sitting on some information that turns that perception on its head.
"I did receive condolence calls," says Porterfield of the reaction of friends and colleagues who knew of her desire to run upon hearing the news of the 8th's new boundaries.
But seeing as the district is basically new - officially redrawn earlier this year to stretch from South King County to Wenatchee - Porterfield wanted more information. So she dropped $25,000 on a poll from McGuire Research Services, a Las Vegas-based company with an established history of political campaign polling and an ability to conduct interviews in Spanish as well as English.
The poll, which was conducted Jan. 29 - 31 earlier this year and surveyed 400 people in the 8th Congressional District, revealed some startling results. Most importantly, says Porterfield political consultant Tom Hujar, the 8th is a district full of independents not sold on Reichert as a Congressman. A standard question with polls of this type, voters were asked whether Reichert should be reelected or replaced - with 43.8 percent responding Reichert should be replaced and only 33.5 percent responding that the sitting Congressman deserved to be reelected. Hujar tells Seattle Weekly that an incumbent considered "safe" typically polls in the neighborhood of 55 percent favoring reelection, with anything under that becoming "dicey." (The poll commissioned by Porterfield's campaign has a plus-or-minus 4.7 percent accuracy rate.)
"We just didn't know about these voters," says Porterfield of the 8th and its new boundaries. "I just thought, 'Let's get as much information as possible and then make a decision.' ... We were trying to get a real read on the district."
Information suggesting 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 Democrat Congressional candidate 44 percent of the time as compared to 37.3 percent for Republicans, and that 31 percent associate as Democrats and 27.5 associate as Republicans--while 36.5 percent associate as Independents.
Perhaps even more intriguing, according to Porterfield, the poll helped show that Obama carried the newly-redrawn 8th by six percent. Senator Patty Murray prevailed by five percent in 2008, while Governor Gregoire "lost slightly" to Republican challenger Dino Rossi.
Not exactly numbers that back up the notion that the 8th is unwinnable for a Democrat.
"I thought it was going to be more Republican," says Porterfield of her surprise over the results of the poll and what they say about the 8th District, a sentiment echoed by Hujar - who says he initially recommended Porterfield stay out of the race.
Porterfield says the poll reveals the 8th Congressional District to be an "independent thinking district" - and one where a candidate such as herself has more than a puncher's chance. Porterfield says she expects to be able to bring the expansive 8th District together around the issues of jobs, transportation and education - things that resonate on both sides of the state.
While the numbers are certainly encouraging for Porterfield's prospects, Hujar notes there are still "plenty of hills to climb" for the campaign. With Reichert certain to have a substantial financial advantage, Hujar says Porterfield's campaign will rely on creativity and social media to even the playing field. Hujar also predicts that by the time November rolls around, voters will be fed up with negative campaigning, saying Porterfield's positive, issues-based run will be appealing.
Both Hujar and Porterfield cite Reichert's 2010 comment that he has voted against his conscience and in favor of environmental issues to appease his constituency and stay in office, with the Auburn Republican infamously classifying these votes as ""certain moves, chess pieces, strategies I have to employ." Porterfield says it is instances like this, highlighting Reichert's "cynical, manipulative approach to politics," which will give her a leg up with voters in November.
Reichert's campaign did not respond to an interview request for this story.
"Reichert will have more money, which means we'll need to be better organized," says Porterfield of her campaign's approach, which she says will feature "a lot of doorbelling."
Considering the landslide that's been foreshadowed and generally accepted at this point, even keeping things close in the 8th could be seen as a moral victory for Porterfield.
Porterfield, however, says she's not running for any moral victories.
"I'm not interested in being a sacrificial lamb," she says.