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Wednesday, April 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dems' hopes rise in 8th, along with rookie's fortunes

Seattle Times staff reporter

A little-known candidate running in the 8th Congressional District raised twice as much money last quarter as incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, raising Democrats' hopes for a fierce race this fall.

Darcy Burner, a former Microsoft executive, will get stronger backing from the national Democratic Party after showing she is a serious candidate. But Reichert, a first-term Republican, holds a 2-to-1 advantage, with more than $700,000 on hand.

The 8th District — encompassing eastern King and Pierce counties — is home to the most closely watched congressional race in Washington this year. It voted for Democratic presidential nominees Al Gore and John Kerry but also sent Republican Jennifer Dunn to Congress six straight times.

The eclectic voting, Reichert's status as a freshman and the Bush administration's poor poll numbers make the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee believe the 8th District fits its "red-to-blue" program.

The group is expected to give Burner's campaign a boost of cash and logistical support worth about $250,000 later this month.

"I ask everyone in my whole life for money these days, including my friends at Microsoft, my old college roommates, my neighbors," Burner said. "We've cut [Reichert's] lead substantially."

Both campaigns think the race will cost at least $2 million a candidate, plus spending by outside interests. Reichert had a huge head start, with $1.1 million already raised — and half spent — by the new year.

The National Journal, a nonpartisan publication about politics, in February graded Reichert's voting record as being centrist, boosting his credentials as an independent thinker. Nonetheless, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists the 8th District as one of 67 "competitive" seats, with a slight bias toward the GOP.

The former King County sheriff beat radio-talk-show host Dave Ross in 2004. Republican strategists portray Burner, 35, who has never run for office, as less of a contender.

"She is a Microsoft program officer. She is a liberal activist. She's never held office. That is not a recipe for a top-tier congressional election," said Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

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Burner has been campaigning since last fall and became the only Democrat when attorney Randy Gordon dropped out.

She's endorsed by former Gov. Gary Locke and supported by the state's Democratic delegation in Washington, D.C.

She portrays herself as a mirror of the rural/urban composition of the 8th District. She is an Air Force brat from Nebraska with a brother who served in Iraq and is a Harvard University graduate and the former lead manager on Microsoft's .NET program.

She quit the Redmond firm three years ago to raise a son, Henry, with her husband. Her lack of political experience is an attribute, she said.

"I'm not a professional politician," Burner said.

"The professional politicians seem to have gotten us into this mess. I bring to this race my experience as a mother and businesswoman, which is a very different perspective."

In February, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, gave Burner such a strong endorsement at a gathering in Olympia that it put her on the national political radar.

Since then, Burner more than doubled her campaign fund, to $355,000 cash on hand. She raised about $140,000 of that in the past 10 days, her campaign said.

Staff researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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