Women voters key to Burner-Reichert race in 8th District
The two candidates in the 8th Congressional District, Darcy Burner and Dave Reichert, are competing for women's votes in a tight race.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Kathy Holt is as likely to vote for a Democrat as a Republican. She supports abortion rights and is politically active as an advocate for people with Lou Gehrig's disease.
In this year's hard-fought 8th Congressional District race, the 48-year-old from Mercer Island is supporting Republican Congressman Dave Reichert, whom she has met several times.
Her reasons go beyond the standard checklist of partisan politics: Reichert's ease with her disabled son impressed her, and she admired his willingness to change his position and support stem-cell research a few years ago.
On the other side of the contest, Keri Andrews, 33, of Bellevue, supports Reichert's Democratic challenger, Darcy Burner.
Andrews, who works at Microsoft, admires Burner's command of the issues. But most of all, she said, she's met Burner and thinks she's trustworthy.
Women voters are key to electoral success this year, political experts say.
That's especially true in the 8th District, where women make up a big chunk of undecided voters, says Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for Burner's campaign.
Polls show women are slightly more likely than men to vote, make fewer snap decisions on big issues, and tend to decide later about whom to support, said Todd Donovan, a political-science professor at Western Washington University.
"The big dynamic for women for electoral politics, particularly in this state, is that they are a big part of the Democratic base," Donovan said.
"A Democrat is not going to win unless they do well among women," he said.
It's not surprising, then, that Burner's campaign has been targeting women with its advertising, or that Reichert is quick to play up his support of issues important to women in the East Side district.
Getting to know Burner
Darcy Magazine showed up in thousands of 8th District mailboxes last month. Its cover and 12 glossy pages featured Burner and her views on toy safety, the economy and the war.
The flier included family pictures from her past — her cousin beside his semi-truck, a blurry childhood snapshot of two kids next to a trailer, Burner in her high-school Civil Air Patrol uniform — along with a current family portrait and a personal essay about losing her infant daughter years ago and, more recently, losing her home to fire.
The magazine went to almost every household in the 8th District that includes women, her campaign said.
"The ... thing we've found with women is that they really want to know more about the candidates sometimes than other groups," Kaushik said. "They want to have a sense of who it is they're voting for, and so we thought it was important in terms of women that we give them a sense of who Darcy is."
Burner's first television ad was targeted toward women, as well. It was biographical and focused more on Burner's personality and background than on the nitty-gritty of the issues.
Burner supporter Andrews said the campaign's work to publicize Burner's softer side is probably worthwhile.
"It's a nice added touch," she said. "I'm not going to vote for somebody based on touchy-feely things generally, but I think it does give a good, well-rounded feeling of who she is as a person."
Burner is highlighting her views on women's reproductive issues, something Reichert's campaign tends to downplay. Among other things, she is reminding voters of Reichert's stance on birth control.
At a 2006 debate, Reichert said he believes pharmacists morally opposed to birth control should be allowed to refuse to fill a prescription for it. That's a more conservative view than most 8th District voters have, Burner contends.
Reichert also is solidly against abortion.
Burner's campaign is heavily financed by women's groups. EMILY's List, a political action committee that raises money for women candidates who support abortion rights, has raised thousands of dollars for her campaign.
Of the top industries and PACs funding her campaign, those focused on "women's issues" rank third, according to OpenSecrets.org, a nonprofit group that tracks federal campaign fundraising.
"The district has a history of voting for pro-choice women, and there are many socially moderate women in the district," said Yoni Cohen, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Darcy is somebody whose biography and her work and the fight that she's had to fight and the fights that she's won will appeal to these people," Cohen said.
Reichert runs on record
Reichert's campaign doesn't have a specific strategy regarding women, said his spokeswoman, Amanda Halligan.
But she said Reichert has shown his commitment to equal opportunities for women by hiring and promoting women in his own office. When he retired as King County sheriff to first run for Congress in 2004, he appointed the county's first female sheriff.
And the congressman's work on issues women care about — children, health care, domestic violence — speak for themselves, Halligan said.
Working Mother magazine gave Reichert a Best of Congress award this year for his voting record and the family-friendly policies in his office. He won endorsements from the national and state teachers unions this year because of the education policies he supports. He's also part of a bipartisan group working to ease the nation's health-care crisis.
When Republican presidential candidate John McCain announced he'd chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, Reichert put out a news release citing his own "distinguished background of empowering women and promoting them to positions of leadership."
"This sets exactly the right example for our young women, who we must continually empower and encourage to pursue positions of leadership both professionally and politically," he said of the selection.
Earlier this year, he supported a resolution honoring women's achievements in math, science and engineering.
In 2005, he was the only Republican to vote against a provision in the Deficit Reduction Act that included a fee paid mostly by single mothers. He's now working with Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott of Seattle to permanently remove the fee, which states assess parents seeking unpaid child support, Halligan said.
"Dave has a great record when it comes to these issues that really matter," she said.
As for abortion and birth control, Halligan said she isn't sure those issues are deal-breakers for many women in the 8th District.
"I can't speak to every woman," she said. "I think we all realize that this is a very personal issue."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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