Robert Sutherland (left) and Ivan Lewis

Robert Sutherland (left) and Ivan Lewis

A Berniecrat win on Trump turf may not be too far-fetched

Democrat Ivan Lewis is battling Republican Robert Sutherland, and history, in the 39th district.

OLYMPIA — When the year began, talk of a Berniecrat getting elected in a bastion of Trump support in Western Washington sounded pretty far-fetched.

But in the 39th Legislative District, a solidly Republican turf the past two decades, the fetch no longer seems too far in a race for an open House seat.

And if a predicted blue wave crashes ashore east of I-5 on Election Day, it might just carry Democratic candidate Ivan Lewis into the Legislature.

He is up against Republican Robert Sutherland with the winner succeeding Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, who is retiring.

Lewis is a 29-year-old father of four young children, a former volunteer firefighter who tends to pigs and turkeys on a hobby farm in Sultan and guides a math and reading center for children in Mukilteo.

He didn’t devote much energy to political activity until Bernie Sanders entered the race for president. Sanders’ progressive policies resonated with him. But the tone of the Vermont senator’s populist message and call for change kindled in Lewis a desire to serve.

“We’ve so desperately lost touch with each other and within our community,” he said. “A foundation of my campaign is to put the people and community first. I figured the only way for (my children) to grow up in a better world is to try to make it a better world.”

On the campaign trail, Lewis talks about being a different kind of Democrat, one who understands a desire to expand access to health care, combat climate change and overhaul the state’s system of taxation cannot blind him to his neighbors’ forebodings of an expansionist state government taking more of their hard-earned money and freedoms every day.

“I get it. I understand what it’s like to make ends meet and take care of a family,” he said. “It is impossible for us to have conversations about things like climate change and long-term investments if people don’t have a job or economic security.”

History is not on his side. The 39th district is comprised of small cities and rural areas of eastern Snohomish and Skagit counties plus a puddle of land in King County. Voters have only elected Republicans to serve them this century.

Sutherland, 59, is a father of four who is seeking his third political office in the past four years. He is a veteran, a scientist, and a constitutionalist. At a rally of gun rights activists in April he described himself as an “angry citizen” who will not comply with any law that is not in harmony with the constitution.

He is the GOP torchbearer yet is campaigning without the usual warm embrace of some of the Snohomish County Republican Party stalwarts. A few of them are quietly rooting against him and for Lewis.

In the August primary, Lewis received 45.8 percent while the two Republican candidates, Sutherland and Randy Hayden, accounted for the other 54.2 percent. That’s been the partisan split in recent history for legislative races.

But not in the 2016 presidential election — and this is where it could get interesting.

Republican Donald Trump won with 50.8 percent followed by Democrat Hillary Clinton with 40 percent. Gary Johnson, running on the Independent ticket, finished with 6.2 percent.

If Democratic voters turn out in higher-than-normal numbers and enough of those independent-minded voters are willing to try something different, well, the Berniecrat might pull off of one of the year’s great surprises.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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