GOP Closely Watching Washington House Primary

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Voters in the evenly balanced 3rd District weighed in Tuesday on who should replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Baird in a contest watched closely by Republicans hoping to make gains in Congress.

Democrat Denny Heck, who has raised more than $1 million, was likely to advance to the November ballot along with one of the two Republican candidates.

Republican state Rep. Jaime Herrera of Camas, a former aide to GOP Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, got early national buzz after six-term incumbent Baird announced his retirement last year.

David Castillo, a former chief of staff to the state House GOP caucus who also worked in the Bush administration, was in the race months before Baird’s announcement.

Herrera has raised more money than Castillo, who has garnered the support of the tea party-inspired group FreedomWorks.

Heck is an Olympia businessman, former state lawmaker and founder of TVW, the state’s public affairs network.

All three candidates have stressed the need to create jobs, something that resonates in a district that has been hit especially hard by the recession. Six of the district’s seven counties have an unemployment rate between 10 and 13 percent. The only exception is Thurston County, home of the state capital.

The politically diverse district spans southwest Washington from Olympia south to Vancouver and from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

President George Bush won the district in both 2000 and 2004. President Barack Obama won it in 2008 with 53 percent of the vote.

Unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi won it in 2004 and 2008.

The only Republican to hold the 3rd District seat since 1960 was Linda Smith, who won a write-in campaign during the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress. Baird was elected after Smith gave up her seat for an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.

Voters will also decide the re-election bid for Republican Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th District. Reichert is likely to advance through the primary with Democratic challenger Suzan DelBene, a former top-level Microsoft executive.

The swing district includes some of the state’s richest residents, high-tech workers and blue-collar rural communities.

In the 2nd District, Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen faces challenger John Koster, who has the backing of tea party activists and the endorsement of 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Elsewhere in the state, Republican Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rogers seem secure in their conservative Eastern Washington districts, while Democrats Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, Jim McDermott and Adam Smith face light opposition for their seats west of the Cascade