Political newcomer Dr. Kim Schrier has defeated GOP veteran Dino Rossi in their race for Washington’s 8th Congressional District, meaning that a Democrat will represent the district for the first time in its 38-year history.
Schrier surged ahead in early returns Tuesday and had 53 percent of the vote Thursday, compared to 47 percent for Rossi, according to updated returns from the Washington Secretary of State, which has counted 216,648 ballots. The Associated Press called the race Thursday morning, after Rossi conceded.
It was a remarkable victory for Schrier, a pediatrician from Issaquah who had never before sought public office and enjoyed less name recognition than Rossi, a former state lawmaker who had made three prior statewide runs.
Yet Schrier’s focus on protecting health insurance — coupled with millions of dollars invested in the race by Democrats and outside groups — gave her the edge in the shifting 8th. The district straddles two sides of the Cascades, from the growing suburbs of eastern King and Pierce counties to more rural areas in Chelan and Kittitas counties.
With Rossi’s concession, Democrats have flipped more than 30 GOP-held seats in the midterm elections, and Schrier will join a record-number of women serving in the House. She is also is poised to become the only woman doctor in Congress, where she says she will make medical care and insurance a top priority.
“Congress is broken, and people in the 8th District are ready for a community pediatrician to bring a dose of common sense to DC,” said Schrier in a statement late Wednesday.
Rossi conceded in a note to his supporters, in which he said he looked forward to spending time with his family. “While this race did not end in the way you or I would have liked, I urge you to stay involved in the democratic process,” he wrote.
Voters in the 8th district have elected Republicans to the House for decades, but during the last seven presidential elections, a majority voted for Democrats, including Hillary Clinton two years ago.
When U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, a popular former King County sheriff, decided not to run for reelection last year, it opened the door a high-stakes contest pitting the Democratic nominees against the Reichert-backed Rossi.
The 8th suddenly became one of the most high-profile House contests and a priority for both parties. Weeks before the polls closed, it became the most expensive House race in Washington history, as outside groups spent nearly $19 million in attack advertising and other independent expenditures, with the Schrier and Rossi campaigns spending another $9 million.
Schrier said she was inspired to run when Reichert and other House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. She had little political background and no experience on the stump, but she survived the primary against two other Democratic challenges, defeating her closest challenger, Jason Rittereiser, by a mere 1,129 votes.
Despite that tough primary, Schrier continued to improve on the campaign trail, and seemed more polished and prepared than Rossi during an Oct. 17 debate in Ellensburg, the only one the Rossi campaign agreed upon. During that encounter, she highlighted Rossi’s opposition to abortion and the possibility that, if reelected, he’d team with Republicans to limit reproductive rights and repeal Obamacare.
“At a time when Roe v. Wade is threatened, when the Supreme Court is going hard right, we need advocates for women’s health care,” Schrier said at the debate. “I will always support a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.”
During the campaign, Rossi touted his experience as a state lawmaker, seeking to cast himself as a Republican who could “work across the aisle” in Congress. He stuck to the GOP playbook of seeking to portray Schrier as a hyper-partisan Democrat who would vote in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive House majority leader.
Yet Schrier was helped by strong turnout in Tuesday’s election, which mirrored voter interest nationwide. It is expected that roughly 250,000 people cast ballots in the 8th district contest, compared to 215,222 four years ago, when Reichert was seeking reelection.
Carl Schwartz, a retired Boeing worker and from Sammamish, spent the last several weeks walking door to door in support of Schrier. He said that his big personal issues were how Congress would handle retiree entitlements and protections for organized labor.
Schwartz said the congressional race likely hinged on how well Schrier attracted votes in Auburn, a blue-collar suburb in Pierce County with a large concentration of what Schwartz called “Reagan Democrats,” who tended to vote for Reichert.
“I told Kim (Schrier) you have to concentrate there and convince those people that you are behind their best interests,” said Schwartz.
This story has been updated with the Associated Press calling the race for Schrier.