Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
Washington 3rd (Open seat) – Rep. Brian Baird (D) is retiring
Primary: August 17, 2010
Location: Southwestern Washington
Days until Election Day: 97
Democratic Rep. Brian Baird created some headaches for his party during the recent health care reform debate when he voted against the House plan last November and then remained on the fence about the Senate bill, which he eventually supported. Nonetheless, his decision to retire at the end of the year is a significant blow to House Democrats fighting to keep control of the chamber in a cycle where every seat will count. His departure gives Republicans their best opportunity to pick off a seat on the West Coast.
The front-runner among Democrats is Denny Heck, a former five-term member of the state House of Representatives who eventually rose to the level of majority leader, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Heck served as the chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Booth Gardner. He went on to create TVW, Washington State’s answer to C-SPAN, where he hosted a public affairs program and won an Emmy.
Another Democrat in the race is Cheryl Crist, a political activist and former financial consultant, teacher, radio announcer, and real estate agent. Crist is campaigning for the nomination from Heck’s left flank, having attended the campaign training program named in the honor of the late liberal Sen. Paul Wellstone. She lists “peace” as one of her main priorities in Congress and vows to “vote to end the wars in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” Crist challenged Baird for the nomination in 2008, but placed last in a four-way field, winning 13 percent of the vote, compared to 51 percent for Baird.
Heck leads all candidates in both fields in fundraising and had a warchest of $801,000 as of June 30. Crist, with only $2,600 in the bank, has yet to raise the funds necessary to wage a serious challenge.
State Rep. Jaime Herrera and former Bush administration official and financial adviser David Castillo are the leading Republican contenders. Herrera, a former aide to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, was appointed to the legislature after a vacancy opened up in 2007 and was elected to a full term in 2008 with 60 percent of the vote. If elected, she would be the first Latina to represent the state in Congress.
Castillo served in the Bush administration, both in the Labor and Veterans Affairs departments. He also worked on the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and served as chief of staff to the House GOP caucus in the state legislature. At the start of the month, Herrera had $201,000 in the bank, compared to $68,000 for Castillo.
Under Washington State’s new “top-two” primary system, the top two vote-getters of either party advance to the general election.
Washington’s 3rd district is more competitive than the rest of the state. President Obama carried it with 53 percent of the vote in 2008, down from the 58 percent he received statewide. President Bush won here in both 2000 and 2004, albeit by narrow margins. Baird lost his first bid for this seat in 1996 to GOP Rep. Linda Smith by just 887 votes, but he won the next six elections with at least 55 percent of the vote. The district occupies the southwest corner of the state and is home to the urban centers of Vancouver and the state capital of Olympia. Clark County, which is one of the state’s two fastest-growing counties, has become an increasingly conservative area and is one of the two counties that form Herrera’s base. The district might be best known to Americans as the home to Mount St. Helens.
The competitiveness of this district, coupled with it’s location in the Pacific Time Zone, will likely result in a long night on Election Night.