Two Popular Voices Vie for Open Washington Seat

A broadcast veteran with nationwide name recognition and a popular King County sheriff are duking it out in Washington's 8th District (search), in what could be one of the nation's closest congressional races this year.

Radio talk show host David Ross (search ), who described his journey from journalism to the political field as a real eye-opener, said he’s more convinced than ever that he can provide an independent voice for the people of the metro Seattle district in Washington state.

“[Voters] are looking for an independent voice with common sense — I live it — both in my personal life and in my public life,” Ross told

The 25-year veteran of the airwaves said the most impactful lesson learned about running for office is making sure he's using the "right words."

“It’s a pressure to distill what you are about. You have to learn the right words to use” to describe political positions so that voters take away the right message. “I think the primary results showed how the message got across in a big way.”

Ross won a crowded Democratic primary in early September despite not being the party favorite but the one with the most brand ID. Ross' opponent is Dave Reichert (search), best known for catching the infamous Green River Killer (search ) in 2001 and criticizing the Seattle police’s handling of WTO protesters in 1999, who also won a grueling Republican primary based on his public image.

"I'm not going to Congress to work on the abortion law, I'm going to Washington to make this country safe and to improve the economy," said Reichert, who insists people know him best as a man of action.

Both men are fighting one of the most closely watched races in the country. The national parties have committed more than $2 million combined to make their candidate's opponent look both inexperienced and out of touch.

“The Democrats and Republicans have both weighed in on this race and put up ads that neither of us has authorized, and those have been the nasty ones,” said Ross, who pitches himself as an independent who is libertarian on social issues, thinks health care should be a top priority and believes the war in Iraq was a mistake.

"We're not able to communicate with [the national parties] because that would be illegal," said Reichert, who suggested that the ads are effective in that they highlight important differences between the two men.

"I haven't seen all of the ads the [National Republican Congressional Campaign] has put up against Dave," he added. Despite the few shots the candidates tossed at each other in the most recent debate, "I don't think this race has gotten nasty. I'm not concerned about it."

Nonetheless, the Democratic National Congressional Committee was forced to pull an ad off Seattle’s KCPQ-TV two weeks ago after Reichert’s campaign complained of its inaccuracies. The ad reportedly sought to make Reichert out to be an “extremist” who opposes embryonic stem cell research.

“The Democrats only know one way to campaign and that’s to try and paint their opponents as extremists,” said Chris Vance, spokesman for the Washington state Republican Party. “It’s not going to work. This is Dave Reichert we’re talking about; they look silly trying.”

Reichert told that he supports research on existing stem cell “lines,” a stance similar to that of President Bush, but he is generally against embryonic stem cell research. He said he also feels he has a thoughtful, honest position against abortion. Ross is pro-choice.

Democrats are focusing on Reichert’s right-to-life position to portray him as out of touch with the district, which traditionally votes for pro-choice candidates. Though in recent years this affluent district has voted Democratic in national races, it has re-elected retiring Rep. Jennifer Dunn, a pro-choice Republican, by comfortable margins since 1992.

The 8th District serves the eastside of metro Seattle, including Bellevue, Mercer Island and the wealthy suburbs to the south of the city and on Lake Washington. It’s also home to a strong high-tech and aerospace industry and their employees. In practice, the area is considered a swing district in which current events and the strength of individual candidates mean more than partisan loyalties.

“The 8th District is ground zero for the Washington races this year. It’s [the national party’s] top target because that’s where so many swing voters are and so many Democrats who need to be turned out,” said Kirstin Brost, spokeswoman for the Washington state Democrats.

So far, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry appears to have a comfortable lead over Bush in Washington state, which helps Democrats down-ticket.

Brost said Ross is a nice fit for the 8th District.

“Ross’ opinions tend to be more in line with the district, he’s more moderate. He doesn’t talk like he’s reading Democratic Party talking points,” she said.

But Reichert’s supporters say their man has been crafting and enacting policy as the county's top cop for the last seven years, while Ross has been sitting around talking about it for the last two decades. That gives their candidate a leg up in experience.

Reichert said he has brought in $28 million in federal funding for the non-partisan sheriff's office for homeland security, school safety and anti-drug efforts. According to the Seattle Times newspaper, Reichert has not made the office a political fiefdom like many sheriffs typically do.

“He has 32 years of public service, of getting things done, not just talking about it. First he was a police officer, then a public official. He’s dealt with a myriad of public policy issues," Vance said.

For his part, Ross said he hasn’t just worked in a studio booth for the last three decades. He reported from the Berlin Wall when it fell, the scene of the L.A. riots, the first Gulf War and most recently, Baghdad. He said he believes he has an extraordinary insight into public policy-making, from county and state government to Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court.

"I've had to deal with all of the issues of a congressman," he said, adding that he knows people's concerns and hears their cries for change. "I think we have reached critical mass for reform."