Washington's Fourth Congressional District is not just having a primary election. It will be culling a huge political herd.
There are 12 congressional candidates. Eight Republicans, none wanting to be known as moderate. Two Democrats. Two independents.
After the Aug. 5 primary, only two will be left to fight over who will replace retiring U.S. Rep. Doc Hasting, who has held that seat since 1994. Since 1998, the staunchly conservative Pasco Republican has captured 60 percent to 70 percent of the votes in his re-election campaigns in the brownish rolling hills of east-central Washington, a heavily agricultural district that stretches from Canada to Oregon.
Bottom line: The Fourth has been a solidly red area with no real challenges to Hastings since 1996.
Here's the initial culling of the herd.
Local polls, media and observers have focused on the same five candidates as having legitimate chances of surviving the primary — Democrat Estakio Beltran of Yakima and Republicans George Cicotte of Kennewick, Clint Didier of Eltopia, Janéa Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake and Dan Newhouse of rural Sunnyside. The other seven are Republicans Gordon Pross, who has run for the seat eight times, Glen Stockwell of Ritzville, Gavin Seim of Ephrata and Kevin Midbust of Richland; plus Democrat Tony Sandoval of Yakima; and independents Richard Wright of Kennewick and Josh Ramirez of Pasco.
Strangely, the one candidates who is apparently weakest of the five, just might have the best chance of surviving the primary. As the most likely to get most of the Democratic votes, Beltran could conceivably end up with 30 percent or more of the primary votes — most of the Fourth's Democrats, boosted by a push to register Hispanic voters. In other words, that translates to most of the normal anti-Hastings voters. Estakio Beltran's biggest problem is he has almost no money.
If the four GOP front-runners evenly split the remaining 70 percent — factoring out the other seven remaining candidates — each would end up with 18.5 percent of the ballots. Consequently, a Republican could conceivably survive by tallying 20 to 25 percent of the votes. Complicating the picture is that the four GOP front-runners all describe themselves as conservative, meaning they theoretically appeal to the same segment of voters. But the GOP survivor or survivors will easily pick up lots of guaranteed support after the primary.
Another complicating factor is the Fourth's sprawling size. With the four GOP front-runners coming from widely separate parts of the Fourth, each could end up winning different geographical sections of the Congressional district.
Sunnyside area farmer Newhouse appears to poll best in heavily populated Yakima County. An unscientific Yakima Herald-Republic Internet poll showed Newhouse with the best chance of the five front-runners of surviving the primary (and Beltran with the smallest chance). Also, Newhouse served as director of the Washington Department of Agriculture from 2009 to 2013, meaning he is well known among the Fourth's farm families and agricultural firms.
But a couple of other straw polls show Cicotte leading strongly in the equally populated Tri-Cities area. A poll taken at a June 18 Republican candidate forum in Kennewick showed Cicotte tallying more votes than Didier, Holmquist Newbry and Newhouse combined. Meanwhile, an unscientific June 14 poll by Pasco-based KONA radio — a station that targets middle-aged and older listeners — gave 50 percent to Cicotte, 17 percent to Ramirez, almost 12 percent to Didier, with no one else breaking the 10 percent mark.
State Sen. Holmquist Newbry probably has had a lock on the state Legislature's 13th District — two terms as its state representative and two terms as its state senator. She won with 70 percent of the vote in 2006 and was unopposed in 2010. Her biggest problem is geography. While Moses Lake is in the middle of Fourth Congressional District, a good chunk of the 13th District's population, including Ellensburg, isn't part of the Fourth.
Didier is the wild card among the four GOP front-runners. A former Washington D.C., football player with two Super Bowl rings. Didier is a Tea Party farmer with two unsuccessful statewide races under his belt. And he is a magnet for press — a high-profile 2010 flap on farm subsidies, plus a gun giveaway this year for his supporters. Everyone in the district knows who Didier is, while the other candidates aren't as well known. His campaign commissioned his own poll in late May that had Didier's supporters doubling the number of Newhouse and Holmquist Newbry supporters combined.
Here is a rundown of the top five:
- Estakio Beltran: Beltran, 30, is the odd man out among the five front-runners. The Democrat. The foster kid. The Latino among the five. The one with the tiny war chest. And, despite being the youngest, he is the only person with Washington D.C. political experience among the five.
Beltran heightened his profile — or gained notoriety with a gun-related backlash — recently with an Internet advertisement showing him shooting an elephant piñata with a shotgun and then riding off on a donkey. His campaign quickly pulled the ad off the Internet.