The Importance of the Independents

It almost goes without saying that Independents will play a crucial role in the upcoming midterm election. As anger toward Washington grows, more people say they are not affiliated with either party. While exit polls in 2008 showed Independents made up 29 percent of the voters, a Gallup poll this year put the Independents at a whopping 41 percent. As the Independents' votes goes so goes control of Congress.

Under that backdrop there's a race in Washington State that's getting a lot of national attention because it's for an open seat in a true swing district with a huge number of Independents. Washington's 3rd District is believed to be roughly 30 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican and 40 percent Independent. It's being vacated by moderate Democrat Brian Baird. While Baird was winning re-election, voters were also handing George Bush victories in 2000 and 2004. Voters overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama in 2008.

This time their choices are two solid candidates with very different messages. Democrat Denny Heck is a former state legislator and former chief of staff for a popular Democratic governor who speaks more about his time spent in the private sector creating jobs than he does about his experience in government. In a district with 13 percent unemployment, jobs is far and away the most important issue. He also seems to be running against his party, which controls the White House and both chambers of Congress, with his campaign slogan, ‘Give Congress Heck'. The word ‘Democrat' does not appear on his sign or other campaign literature.

On the other side is Republican state lawmaker Jaime Herrera. Before running for state office, she was a policy analyst for Washington State Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Herrera portrays herself as a fiscal conservative who has never supported a tax increase. She rails against the current debt and government spending run amok. She's trying to paint Heck as being in lock-step with democratic leaders such as Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The latest Survey U.S.A. poll has Herrera with a 9-point lead over Heck but many observers believe it's much closer than that. Pundits in the other Washington say this is a race the Democratic party needs to win to keep control of the House of Representatives.