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.
Beltran John Stang
A Yakima County native, he bounced around foster homes until he was 17. While in high school, he was also employed as a farm worker. Graduating from Gonzaga University with a degree in psychology and communications, he was an aide for two years for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., before spending five years as senior policy advisor for then-U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza from California's heavily agricultural Modesto area. "I learned how to represent issues that are important to an agriculture-dedicated district. I learned how to run and win as a Democrat in a rural agricultural area," Beltran said.
Beltran has never run for any office before. However, he argues that he has the most to offer in dealing with Washington, D.C., matters, saying that's where his expertise and interests are. He wants get on agriculture-related committees, and stressed water and irrigation matters as a top priority.
Beltran is more supportive of federal government programs than his Republican counterparts, citing the Columbia Basin project that turned much of Eastern Washington into farmland and federal aid to foster care programs. "My entire life is due to people who wrote (foster care aid bills), who never met me," he said.
He wants changes to the immigration system, securing borders secure but easing regulations to allow farm workers to arrive and be hired in Eastern Washington. He argued that Eastern Washington farmers have problems getting sufficient labor. "It's embarrassing in that there is Peruvian asparagus in our grocery stores," he said.
On Obamacare, he wants the transition phase to be eased for small businesses. Meanwhile, he does not want to see a cap-and trade carbon emissions system at the state level, but believes it should be tackled at the national level. A cap-and-trade program is when the national or state government sets an overall annual limit to its carbon dioxide emissions. Also, Beltran wants to expand nuclear-power generation in order to cut down on greenhouse gases. He also wants to explore recycling used nuclear fuel.
Beltran has a huge funding problem, with the Federal Election Commission reporting he has raised only $2,000 as of July 1, a drop in the bucket compared to everyone else. And he is in a district that overwhelmingly votes Republican in statewide and legislative races.
However, he is tapping two resources that have been largely unused in Fourth Congressional District races. His campaign is registering Hispanic blue-collar citizens to vote. Yakima and Franklin counties have huge Latino populations, and Hispanics have a significant presence elsewhere in the Fourth. Despite its numbers, this demographic group has never really flexed its political muscles in the Fourth. Beltran and other Latino state legislative candidates hope to spark up those votes this year.
Also, he has picked up several endorsements from labor organizations, including the Hanford Atomic Metals Trades Council, the umbrella organization for 15 unions at the Hanford nuclear reservation. HAMTC is the Tri-Cities' biggest and most powerful labor group. Hanford directly or indirectly employs roughly 25 percent of the Tri-Cities' workforce. A question is whether HAMTC's endorsement will translate to bodies at the polls.
- George Cicotte: He is the health care wonk among the candidates. Cicotte, 46, began as an actuary and then earned a law degree from Brigham Young University to practice health and retirement law for 19 years. He originally worked in a Washington, D.C. law firm and then moved to Kennewick in 2002 because his wife's family is from that area. He has his own law firm. "I've spent my entire career dealing with health care and retirement spending ... The things I deal with are the things that affect people in their daily lives," he said.
Cicotte has been active in local GOP activities, but has never run for any public office before.
Cicotte John Stang
Cicotte wants to change Obamacare, but believes abolishing it politically impossible as long as the Democrats control either the Senate or the White House. Consequently, he views political talk about abolishing Obamacare as "dishonest" and unrealistic. However, he is critical of the current system and wants several changes to significant parts of it, such as decreasing taxes on medical devices, altering tax credits on insurance, making it easier to buy insurance across state lines. All those measures would help shrink insurance premiums for consumers, he said.
On social issues, Cicotte is conservative, supporting the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, and he believes freedom of religion is under attack in the United States. Meanwhile on climate change, he believes global warming exists, but says he is unsure if it is manmade. He wants more scientific studies on global warming before deciding how it should be tackled. "I don't see a Congressional problem, I see a scientific problem," he said. Cicotte supports pushes for more nuclear power.
Cicotte appears to be strong in the Tri-Cities and not well-known elsewhere. The number of Cicotte signs in the Tri-Cities dwarfs everyone else's signage combined. No Cicotte signs were apparent in drives along some major streets in Yakima and Moses Lake. He has a good-sized war chest — $122,935 as of July 1.
- Clint Didier: Didier, 55, is widely known as the candidate with the gun giveaway for his supporters. He gave away one AR-15 rifle (the civilian version of a U.S. Army M-16,) and two Ruger LC9 lightweight semi-automatic handguns on July 4. The Second Amendment ranks as a high priority in his Internet campaign offerings.
The political science graduate from Portland State University has a couple other claims to fame. He was an NFL tight end for nine years, with two Super Bowl rings earned with the Washington team. He caught an eight-yard pass in the 1988 Super Bowl to score the fifth touchdown in the Washington team's famous 35-point comeback to upset the Denver Broncos. He retired from the NFL in 1990 and bought a farm near where his parents' farm was in Eltopia, which is about 15 miles north of Pasco. He also is a high school football co-coach in Connell with two state championships on his record.
Didier (2010) First Impression Photography, Didier Campaign.
He ran for the U.S. Senate in the 2010 primary, winning almost 13 percent of the vote to post a distant third behind Dino Rossi and Patty Murray, who eventually won re-election. Didier held off any formal endorsement of fellow Republican Rossi but voted for Rossi himself. In 2012, Didier ran for state lands commissioner, losing with 41 percent of the vote, although he beat incumbent Peter Goldmark in the counties in the Fourth District.
Didier declined to be interviewed in person or by phone for this story, citing a busy campaign and farming schedule. His campaign agreed to answer emailed question. On June 16, Crosscut emailed Didier's campaign the same questions that it asked the other four candidates in person, plus one relating to a 2010 farm subsidies flap reported by The Seattle Times. So far, no answers have been emailed back. The 2010 flap addressed Didier receiving federal farm subsidies while simultaneously criticizing federal aid programs.
He can be safely classified as a Tea Party conservative. In a February video on the Tea Party National News web site, Didier called for repealing Obamacare, returning money to the gold standard, abolishing the Federal Reserve, stopping foreign aid, eliminating "unconstitutional" federal agencies, and removing the United States from the United Nations.
Two-time Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has endorsed Didier for his congressional run. Paul and Sarah Palin endorsed Didier in his 2010 Senate campaign. Didier's campaign had collected $132,961 as of July 1, according to FEC records.
- Janea Holmquist Newbry. She grew up as an Eastern Washington farm kid who graduated from Gonzaga University with a political science and sociology degree, immediately becoming a state legislative aide. She has also worked in insurance. She successfully ran for state representative at the age of 25. She moved to the state Senate at the age of 31. She is now a 39-year-old whose favorite swear word seems to be "darn."
Her grandfather was a farmer. Her dad has been a farmer and electrician. "I saw at a very, very young age, I saw them struggle with federal regulations. ... It opened my eyes to the federal government helping or hindering with economic development," Holmquist Newbry said. "One of my sincerest passions is job creation in the private sector," she added.
Holmquist Newbry John Stang
Chairwoman of the Washington Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, Holmquist Newbry had been one of the more conservative members of that chamber in Olympia with a strong stance for limited government, grumbling when the 24-Republican, two-Democrat Majority Coalition Caucus occasionally shifted to moderate stances. Her niche has been working on complicated business, insurance, labor and workers compensation legislation. Business organizations consistently rate her performance with their top grades. Most of her bills died in the deadlock between the Republican-oriented Senate and the Democrat-controlled House, including one to create a training wage for a limited time for teenagers that would be below minimum wage.
She initially opposed an eventually successful bipartisan attempt to allow high school graduates, whose parents are undocumented immigrants, to apply for state college aid. She did not vote on the final revised bill on its last trip through the Senate, but she did criticize the Majority Coalition Caucus' moderate leaders for zipping the resurrected revised bill through the Senate in less than 24 hours.
If elected, Holmquist Newbry wants get on committees relating to agriculture, natural resources and fiscal matters. She would like to see changes in immigration regulations to build more stable relations between state farms and their workforces, but also wants to increase security on the nation's southern borders. And she says she wants health care to become more affordable. On climate change issues, she opposes a cap-and-trade system as artificially interfering with the free market. Holmquist Newbry wants to push to have hydropower legally recognized as a renewable resource. .
Holmquist Newbry recognizes she is not as well known in the Yakima Valley and Tri-Cities, as she is in the north half of the Fourth. She noted that part of Yakima County is part of the 13th Legislative District and that she has routinely participated in Yakima County functions over the years as a state senator. And her campaign manager in the Tri-Cities is locally popular former Pasco mayor Joyce Olson Mathews, who was also Hastings' Tri-Cities office manager for many years. Holmquist Newbry has been endorsed by numerous business organizations, and a large number of GOP legislators, including 14 out of 23 of her fellow Republican state senators.
FEC records showed that Holmquist Newbry had raised $61,623 by July 1, the lowest among the four leading Republicans.
* Dan Newhouse: The 58-year-old Sunnyside farmer competes with Holmquist Newbry to have the thickest public service résumé among the candidates. He has six years as a state representative for eastern Yakima County's 15th Legislative District and four years as director of the Washington Department of Agriculture, under then-Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat. The Washington State University graduate in agricultural economics has a family farming tradition in Yakima County that stretches back to 1918 with his grandfather's dairy farm. He currently farms 600 acres of hops, grapes and tree fruit.
Newhouse pushes the fact he has both legislative and business experience. "As a business person and a farmer, I understand the many challenges of central Washington because I lived it," he said.
Newhouse John Stang
He wants to focus on water-related issues, and get on House committees that deal with agriculture and fiscal matters. He frets about how business regulations and the federal Endangered Species Act can co-exist, adding he wants environmental rules to be based on stricter information standards than extrapolating from existing data. On climate change matters, Newhouse is undecided on whether a cap-and-trade effort should be pursued. He worries about the financial impacts of such an approach. However, 'the fact we are a market-based system doesn't mean we can't have incentives to improve the environment," he said.
He believes Obamacare needs significant overhauling, including improvements in individuals' ability to keep the same insurance as they move from job to job and from state to state. He also believes Obamacare in its current form could lead to job losses.
Newhouse picked up most of the Olympia endorsements that Holmquist Newbry doesn't have. He also has Republican former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton in his corner, along with a long list of county and city officials from the southern half of the Fourth Congressional District. The FEC has him collecting $162,200 as of July 1, giving Newhouse the biggest campaign war chest among the 12 candidates.
While Newhouse does not want to be portrayed as a moderate, he preaches cooperation across the aisle. "Compromise is part of the system. It is not a sign of weakness," he said.
When the vote counting in the primary election wraps up, two of the herd will be left standing.