OLYMPIA — Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen of Everett is getting his re-election campaign formally under way this week with events in communities throughout the 2nd District he’s represented for 18 years.
This is Larsen’s M.O. and it’s worked well enough to earn him victories in nine elections.
But as he sets out this time, the landscape is different because, well, it’s bereft of challengers. No Republicans nor any people of any other political stripe have said they will oppose the incumbent congressman.
Larsen’s brain trust fully expects an opponent will surface when candidates begin filing May 14. Still, to be this close to the sign-up period without any foes, let alone a Republican, has never happened.
But this is not an anomaly. This year there is little ambition in the state’s Grand Old Party to tackle incumbent Democratic House members.
Washington has six — Larsen, Suzan DelBene, Pramila Jayapal, Derek Kilmer, Adam Smith and Denny Heck — and none of them had a Republican challenger as of Wednesday, based on the online records of the Federal Election Commission.
DelBene, Jayapal and Kilmer have no opponents at all so far, like Larsen. A Democrat is signed up against Smith and two independents against Heck, according to the federal records.
For the four House seats held by Republicans in this state, it’s a completely opposite scenario.
Incumbents Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse all have at least one Democratic opponent.
And in the 8th Congressional District, where Dave Reichert is retiring, there is one Republican candidate, Dino Rossi, and nine Democrat hopefuls.
The dynamic in the four contests reflects what is occurring in many House contests across the nation in 2018.
Democrats are enthusiastic and their political machinery revved up. Their candidates are receiving an ample supply of financial support and a power plant worth of volunteer energy, all fueled by a desire to put Democrats in charge of the House and establish a bulwark to the initiatives of Republican President Donald Trump.
Republicans aren’t fired up quite so much and party leaders are marshalling all available resources to defend seats and keep control of the chamber.
In Washington, the battle for Reichert’s seat is likely to generate the greatest clash of these forces.
Rossi, an ex-state lawmaker, is quite popular with Republicans in spite of a losing record in pursuits for higher office. He should win the primary and be the prohibitive favorite in the general election.
To win, Rossi is going to have to figure out how to create enough distance between himself and the president — real and perceived — to win over independents whose votes could determine the outcome. But it cannot be so much space as to turn off Trump loyalists. If those folks worry that Rossi won’t defend touchstones of the president’s Make America Great Again agenda, he’ll get their votes but probably not their time or money, which could be invaluable down the stretch.
In the meantime, the road ahead for the six incumbent Democrats looks pretty smooth. Each of them won by more than 10 percent in 2016. Even if they get a Republican challenger in the coming days, they likely will enjoy a successful outcome this fall.
And Larsen can then return to the communities he’s visiting this week to celebrate.