In a statement released Friday, Reichert expressed concern for the state under current Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s leadership, but said he believes he can best serve the people by seeking re-election to represent Washington’s 8th Congressional District. Reichert wrote:
Like so many of you, I have been extremely disappointed in the decisions coming out of the Governor’s Office — regarding our schools, the health of our children, and most recently a decision to give the Green River serial killer a chance to enjoy life in a nicer prison. We deserve better.
Yet, I believe I can better serve you now, today, in another Washington where politicians are more interested in fighting each other than fighting for America; where leadership has been in retreat, and courage has been on recess.
The fifth-term congressman and former King County Sheriff’s displeasure with Inslee’s performance seems to be shared by voters. The governor’s job approval rating in some non-published polls is soft — hovering in the mid-40s — and the most recent Elway Poll finding that only 30 percent of voters would definitely vote to give the governor a second term each indicate weakness.
Reichert’s decision to remove his name from consideration leaves Republican candidate for governor and Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant with an open field to run in toward the primary, at least for now.
(The absence of any mention of Bryant in Reichert’s statement was noticed by some Republican insiders.)
Bryant knew his cue and quickly blasted an email to supporters complimenting Reichert for his public service and sending the signal that his campaign was shifting into a higher gear. Bryant wrote:
My campaign for governor of Washington State now moves into a new phase; a phase focused on the challenges confronting our kids, teachers & classrooms, on the challenges confronting communities across Washington that need family wage jobs, and on the challenges facing the Puget Sound and the salmon runs that are part of our history, culture and economy.
Our campaign needs to make some noise, offer the people an alternative leadership style, one that not only articulates a vision, but that is capable of building coalitions that gets stuff done.
State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison issued her own statement giving praise to both Reicher and Bryant. Hutchison wrote:
Congressman Reichert has an exemplary record of public service, and the people of his district, Washington State, and the country will be well served by him focusing on his current role.
Republican Bill Bryant is running a strong campaign for Governor, meeting voters across the state and building support to replace the Governor who can’t govern, Jay Inslee.
The relatively minimal statements of Hutchison, Reichert and Bryant marked an important plot point in a story stretching back nearly three years.
Chatter among Republicans as to who could beat Inslee in 2016 began not long after Election Night 2012. Conversations took place at conferences, in coffee shops and among groups gathering through social media, but along the GOP grapevine Bryant’s name wasn’t registering in those early discussions as the top-tier choice of Republicans. Reichert, however, was mentioned often as an A-list option, a candidate with considerable name identification and a persona that matched up against Inslee’s protector archetype. In certain circles, prospects for a run by state Senator Andy Hill (R-Redmond) generated proportional excitement, originating largely from his calm leadership under fire during budget battles in Olympia and his record of winning in part of King County.
Meanwhile, Bryant went to work to build and strengthen his reach across Washington, crisscrossing the state and subjecting himself to the rigors of rubber chicken dinners at Lincoln Day events in nearly every county. He recruited grassroots activists into his campaign and racked up a significant list of endorsements including leading state legislators from both sides of the Cascades, port commissioners, as well former Gov. Dan Evans and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton.
Since launching his official campaign this May, Bryant has also drawn financial support, raising more than $575,000 in the doldrums of the 2nd and 3rd quarters of this year.
[Bryant’s accumulated campaign finances may have been one factor in Reichert’s decision. Reichert’s federal campaign coffers hold just over $607,000 as of Sept. 30, which would put him slightly ahead of Bryant in the fundraising contest, but the procedure for sweeping those monies over for use in a state race is tedious and could reduce the total available. (See “Inslee Discloses Details of Disputed $200K Transfer from Fed Account, Several Donors Over the Max,” Northwest Daily Marker, 9/3/11.)]
Bryant still has a lot of work to do to catch up to Inslee in fundraising. Even contending with several financing blackouts during regular legislative sessions, overtimes and triple overtimes, Inslee has amassed almost $2.4 million, though it’s worth noting that $320,000 of Inslee’s contributions in 2015 came as transfers from the state Democratic machine. Without those as early and necessary cash transfusions, Inslee’s fundraising edge in 2015 narrows to less than $280,000. Not a photo finish, for sure, but neither is it a runaway for the incumbent.
Nevertheless, Team Bryant’s early totals are a respectable ante to play in the contest ahead. As an incumbent holding statewide office, Inslee’s name identification is high and Bryant’s is relatively low; closing the gap will require more than just the candidate’s shoe leather and an army of enthusiastic volunteers.
The question of exactly how much money Bryant will need to raise depends largely on whether he remains the only candidate drawing on Republican and conservative votes in the primary. On the conservative right, there has been very little buzz about potential entrants into the primary who might appeal to voters whose tastes tend more toward Clint Didier, leaving some wondering if a challenge to Bryant from the right could still emerge late in the race.