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Originally published April 7, 2012 at 8:06 PM | Page modified August 2, 2012 at 5:56 PM

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Kilmer thus far the lone Democrat in race for 6th District nomination

State Sen. Derek Kilmer has emerged as the sole Democrat seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks in the 6th Congressional District.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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When Congressman Norm Dicks announced last month he wouldn't seek re-election, it prompted wide speculation about a long list of fellow Democrats who would want to replace him.

Dicks himself ticked off a few possible candidates, saying he didn't plan to endorse anyone in what was assumed would be a crowded primary. At least five Democrats said they were considering a run.

But now, only one Democratic candidate remains for the 6th Congressional District seat: state Sen. Derek Kilmer. The 38-year-old Port Angeles native cleared the field and got the endorsement of most of his potential competitors — and even Dicks himself.

"I think Derek has a reputation as a great campaigner ... able to raise a lot of money, and I suspect that intimidated a lot of people," said state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur. "I just think he eclipsed everybody."

Last week, Kilmer announced he had raised $359,600 in just a month, placing him among the top fundraisers for congressional races in Washington during the first quarter of the year.

Two Republicans are in the race so far: technology consultant Jesse Young and attorney Doug Cloud, both from Tacoma. A more well-known Republican, state Rep. Jan Angel of Port Orchard, was considering the race but decided not to run.

Both Young and Cloud ran for the seat in 2010, and neither has held elected office before or raised anywhere near the money Kilmer has.

Kilmer is vice president of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County. His supporters almost always mention that he's smart: He studied public policy at Princeton University and has a doctorate from the University of Oxford in comparative social policy, with a focus on economic development.

He's considered a moderate Democrat, and at times his positions have disappointed some labor and environmental groups.

He was elected to the 26th District House seat in 2004 and the state Senate in 2006. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two young children and live in Gig Harbor.

"The assumption was that there would be a lot of candidates, sort of known Democrats, who would be running against each other," said George Behan, Dicks' chief of staff.

Behan said Dicks decided to make an endorsement when he saw that no more serious candidates were likely to run.

It's a stark contrast to the race in the 1st Congressional District, another newly redrawn district with an open seat, where six Democrats are facing off in a competitive primary.

Kilmer said he doesn't really know why the other potential Democratic challengers decided not to run. But, he added, "I think they have a strong sense that we need folks who can actually work together to move things forward."

Kilmer said he had no plans to run for Congress before he heard via text message March 2 that Dicks was retiring. The senator was attending the governor's prayer breakfast at the time.

Kilmer had dinner that night with his wife to discuss the race and launched a campaign a few days later. He said it was "a bummer" that Dicks decided not to run but said he also doesn't want to leave a "dysfunctional federal government" to his daughters.

"I think Congress is pretty messed up," he said. "I think it's very, very broken."

When he announced he would not seek re-election, Dicks mentioned Kilmer and two other elected leaders as possible replacements: Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown. Both said they would consider it, then bowed out about a week later.

Longtime state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, also considered, then rejected, running. He said he could have a bigger impact as an established state senator than a freshman in Congress.

"I think one of the factors, to be quite candid, ... is the money it takes to run a campaign," Brown said.

Strickland said Dicks' retirement was "a rare opportunity," but she instead decided to run again for mayor. She endorsed Kilmer, who she said is intelligent and thoughtful — but not the reason she stayed out of the race.

Brown has not endorsed Kilmer, but dozens of prominent leaders have, including three Tacoma council members, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma.

Dicks announced his endorsement of Kilmer March 29.

"I think he was actually Norm's very easy choice to succeed him and I think, you know, carefully, Norm was being very helpful, but not public about it," said political consultant Ron Dotzauer.

Behan said Dicks did not handpick Kilmer for the race.

Dicks has held the 6th District seat for 36 years. The district was redrawn this year in light of the 2010 census, and includes the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas, Bainbridge Island and northern Tacoma.

Based on past election results, the new district leans more heavily Democratic than the old one. In 2010, the area that makes up the new district voted 53 to 47 percent for Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray over Republican Dino Rossi.

Still, Wilbur, the state Republican Party chairman, said the district is "up for grabs" now that Dicks is out. He thinks other Republicans might join the race before the May 18 filing deadline.

All the candidates are likely to challenge Kilmer's moderate, pro-business image, Wilbur said.

Cloud, the Republican Tacoma attorney, thinks voters will blame Kilmer for the state's budget problems, since he is a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

"I think he's going to be in for a tough fight," Cloud said. "He's going to have a lot of explaining to do."

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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