SPOKANE, Wash. – The upset defeat of Speaker Tom Foley (search) a decade ago symbolized the Republican takeover of the U.S. House. Now Democrats feel they have a chance to win back the seat.
Democrats are pinning their hopes on Donald Barbieri (search), a businessman with a big campaign war chest and a long history of civic duty. Three Republicans hope to keep the seat in the GOP's hands.
Barbieri, 58, comes from a family with multigenerational business interests in Spokane and has a long record of civic service on the boards of business, hospital and university bodies.
"I'm a business person, a centrist, who likes pulling people around the table," Barbieri told The Associated Press. "There is an accelerating partisanship in America, and we need to get back to people who want to address community needs."
The 5th District is centered on Spokane, 300 miles east and a world away from the liberal politics of Seattle. President Bush carried every county in eastern Washington in 2000, but President Clinton twice won Spokane County, where two-thirds of the district's population lives.
Republicans currently command a 228-205 majority in the House, with one Democratic-leaning independent and one vacancy. Democrats must gain 12 seats to take control, an outcome pundits consider unlikely.
In addition to Nethercutt's seat, Democrats figure their best chances are seats held by retiring Republican Reps. Scott McInnis in Colorado; Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania; W.J. Tauzin in Louisiana; Jack Quinn and Amo Houghton in New York; Bill Janklow in South Dakota; Doug Bereuter in Nebraska; and Jennifer Dunn in Washington.
So far, Barbieri has raised more money than the three Republican contenders combined. Greg Speed, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he makes a great candidate.
Barbieri "has the type of pro-business background and ties to the folks in the business and labor communities and in both parties in Spokane that is going to make him so formidable," said Speed.
The GOP strategy so far ignores Barbieri. State GOP chairman Chris Vance believes the winner of the September primary among three Republicans — state Rep. Cathy McMorris, state Sen. Larry Sheahan, and Spokane attorney Shaun Cross — will win the general election.
That is a contention Barbieri rejects.
"This district was represented by Tom Foley, one of the best centrist representatives we've ever had in Congress," Barbieri said. "He was a great Democrat."