McDermott faces 5 challengers but no real re-election challenge
Five candidates are challenging 20-year incumbent Congressman Jim McDermott, but all the candidates acknowledge they are unlikely to beat him.
Seattle Times staff reporter
U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott drained his campaign coffers this spring to pay $1 million in legal fees to House Minority Leader John Boehner, finally ending a decadelong dispute over an illegally taped telephone call.
That blow came just weeks after news broke that an alleged Iraqi spy had paid for a 2002 trip McDermott took to Iraq.
The combination should have made McDermott, who has served 20 years in Seattle's heavily Democratic 7th Congressional District, more vulnerable to political challenge than he's been in years.
On top of that, this year's new top-two primary system could allow a Democratic challenger to face McDermott in the general election.
Still, his five opponents in Tuesday's primary election all agree they are the longest of longshots to topple the 71-year-old congressman.
"I started this more or less as a lark," said one candidate, 82-year-old Al Schaefer. "I figure there's no way I can unseat him. That was not my goal."
Even Republican rising star Steve Beren, who got 16 percent of the vote when he challenged McDermott in 2006, said his ultimate goal is to help Republicans statewide. He doesn't necessarily believe he can unseat McDermott, who has gotten at least 75 percent of the vote in each of his re-election bids.
Washington State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser is more blunt about his party's chances.
"The demographics of Seattle are such that I do not believe that if I could bring Abraham Lincoln back to life, that he could be elected in the city of Seattle," Esser said. "People reflexively vote Democrat."
The 7th District is one of the five most Democratic districts in the country, said University of Washington political-science professor Mark A. Smith.
"People here, they know [McDermott] pretty well, and he has all the advantages of name recognition," Smith said. "He's about as safe a congressional incumbent as you could find."
Beren, 56, is a native New Yorker who was a socialist and Vietnam War protester in the 1960s and '70s. Later, after settling in Seattle and marrying, he became a Democrat, voting twice for Bill Clinton and once for Al Gore. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said, he "came to see that the Republican Party was far superior on foreign policy."
Beren's speech at this spring's state Republican convention earned him support from across the state, and Esser regaled him as "a team player" for being willing to run in a liberal stronghold like Seattle.
As for McDermott, he says Seattle voters understand and agree with his positions, particularly his opposition to President Bush and the Iraq war.
"I'm not sailing into very tough wind in that kind of district," he said.
The other candidates in the race are:
• Schaefer, an independent from Lake City who said he was inspired to run by Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. He is concerned about the federal deficit and said his campaign is mostly intended to educate voters about the nation's debt.
• Donovan Rivers, 52, a South Seattle Democrat who ran against McDermott two years ago, capturing 10 percent of the primary vote. Rivers, a consultant and small-business owner in Rainier Beach, is a community activist who has served on numerous city and nonprofit committees to help underserved people.
He said McDermott hasn't worked to meet the diverse needs of his constituents. The congressman should be working to fund community events, health clinics and businesses in Seattle's poor south end, Rivers said.
• Vashon Island financial planner Mark Goldman, an independent who is running to the left of McDermott. He's upset that McDermott hasn't pushed harder to impeach President Bush. Goldman says he once handed McDermott a list of about 20 reasons he feels Bush should be impeached, and was disappointed when McDermott put the list in his pocket and wouldn't answer questions about it.
• Goodspaceguy Nelson, a perennial Democratic candidate whose platform rests on the U.S.' making more efforts toward space colonization, is also on the ballot.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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