WA race between Schrier, Larkin could shift power in Congress

Washington's 8th district has for years been considered a key battleground. This election is no different.

Picture of U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier and challenger Matt Larkin, who are competing in Washington's 8th Congressional District.

Incumbent Kim Schrier (D) and challenger Matt Larkin (R) are facing off in the race for the 8th Congressional District seat this November. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

Voters in Washington’s 8th Congressional District are going to decide on Nov. 8 whether they want a businessman from Woodinville or a pediatrician from Sammamish to represent them. They’re also among the minuscule slice of voters in a nation of 330 million who will decide the balance of power in Congress and the course of the nation over the next two years.

During the Trump era, the stakes were never low in the 8th District, which straddles the Cascades, capturing Chelan and Kittitas counties as well as eastern King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The district long supported moderate Republican representatives before Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat and pediatrician, rode a blue wave to victory in 2018 that also saw her party reclaim the House and serve as a check on the former president. She fended off a challenger in 2020.

The 8th District is back in the spotlight, this time as one of the key seats targeted by Republicans to take back Congress. David Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Political Report, calls the district “right in the middle of the battlefield.”

Schrier faces Republican challenger Matt Larkin in a contest that will shape the next congressional agenda: on government taxes and spending, on health care and the economy, on energy and environmental policy, and on protections for abortion. The race will also determine who holds Congress and its levers of power amid a 2024 presidential election that could again see attempts to overturn the voting results certified in the states.

For Democrats to keep their razor-slim U.S. House majority, they’ll likely need a victory from Schrier.

Larkin, who works as legal counsel to his family’s business, which makes components for water pipes, has made a slogan out of “Make Crime Illegal Again.” And Larkin has also campaigned on offering divided government in the other Washington to rein in spending.

“By taking back the House we can pump the brakes on these trillion-dollar bills we're seeing almost every month by the Biden administration,” he said in a recent interview.

As she campaigns, Schrier isn’t shy about defending some of that legislation, noting that the recent Inflation Reduction Act capped insulin prices for seniors on Medicare. And she touts her bipartisan work, on a range of issues in the district.

And Schrier argues the importance of having a woman doctor sit in Congress after a new conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority overturned Roe v. Wade’s federal protections for abortion. Republican majorities in Congress could go further by seeking to pass nationwide restrictions.

“We are not safe even here in Washington state,” she said. “Because federal law would overturn protections here in Washington.”

Matt Larkin

Larkin lives in a Woodinville residence – which is just outside the 8th District – that has been his home for about a dozen years, and also plays up his family’s long presence in Washington.

“I've got roots here, my family homesteaded here over 165 years ago, off the Oregon trail,” he said in an interview earlier this year.

He got a taste of politics in 2020, when he ran unsuccessfully against state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Larkin, 41, has made lowering crime both a centerpiece and a slogan for his campaign: “Make Crime Illegal Again.”

If elected, Larkin said, he’d seek federal funding to hire 200,000 law enforcement officers across the nation. That would include hiring at both the state and local level with incentive bonuses, too. This has earned him the endorsement of a key law enforcement union, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, as well as the King County Police Officers Guild and the sheriffs of Chelan, Kittitas, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

On spending, Larkin vowed to use a potential Republican House “to chip away” at recent Democratic policies, and to push back on Biden’s forgiveness of some student debt. Like other GOP candidates running for Congress this year in Washington, Larkin also wants to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from hiring more personnel to investigate people committing tax fraud.

Larkin wants to boost energy production as a way to deter regimes like Russia and Saudi Arabia from having leverage, saying in a recent interview: “I'm not saying we need to be 100% fossil-fuel reliant, but we need energy independence.”

Unlike fellow GOP candidate Joe Kent, Larkin supports sending aid to Ukraine as that country fends off an invasion by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“From a historical perspective, you don't want to appease dictators in Europe,” Larkin said. “It never ends well. If they take Ukraine, then what's next, Poland?”

Larkin, who has praised the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned national abortion protections, has had to defend himself from attacks by Democrats over his anti-abortion stance. He downplays the subject, calling it a states’-rights issue and says that Democrats are using it as a scare tactic.

“There’s going to be no change to safe and legal abortion in Washington state,” he said. Larkin, however, declined to say how he would vote on the nationwide abortion restrictions being pushed by some Republicans in Congress: "I'm not going to commit to hypothetical legislation."

Kim Schrier

Before entering Congress, Schrier spent 17 years working with patients in Issaquah. The congresswoman, who has Type 1 diabetes, was spurred to political action after the election of Trump in 2016 and the ensuing efforts by Republicans to roll back the national health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican Party super-PAC, has hammered away at Schrier, creating at least five advertisements tying the representative’s voting record to Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and linking Democratic policies to inflation and price increases for gas, groceries and other goods.

Economists agree that federal relief packages – including those approved by Trump during the first year of the pandemic – played a part in boosting inflation, along with pandemic-related problems with the global supply chain and other factors.

“They are trying to peg a worldwide problem on a Democratic Congress and this president,” Schrier said, adding later: “If there were a single magic bullet to solve inflation we would have used it already, and in the meantime I am doing everything I can to help people.”

Meanwhile, the representative points out her work crossing the aisle on a range of issues, such as legislation co-authored with U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, and signed by Trump which increased federal water projects in the Yakima basin, and also increased dollars for Native American irrigation projects.

She has also sponsored legislation co-authored with Washington’s two other Republican House members, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Battle Ground.

Schrier, 54, touts those and other points as she meets new voters, she said, like the eastern Snohomish County residents recently brought into the district in the once-a-decade redistricting that just occurred. The congresswoman – who has the endorsements of a number of trade unions, from pipefitters to electrical workers –  discusses her support for building the types of lumber mills more suited to the trees harvested during forest thinning. That’s an approach to help both reduce wildfires and boost manufacturing.

“Darrington, you're worried about forest fires and timber and the lumber industry, guess what?” Schrier, who has also been endorsed by the Washington Building Trades and Construction Council. “I’ve been working in Chelan County on wildfire prevention, and I'm trying to get a small-diameter mill in.”

The representative has also touted her support for law enforcement, and called for more funding for police, saying "I've been out on ride-alongs with police in every part of this district, hearing their frustrations" and the ways they feel demoralized. But Schrier took some inadvertent heat when a Democratic-aligned political action committee used photos of the representative with law enforcement officers, according to a report in The Seattle Times. That PAC isn't allowed to coordinate with Schrier's campaign and the representative didn't have a role in it, but she is nonetheless apologizing to the officers.

"And it's so frustrating, because police specifically don't want to be politicized, they just want to serve their communities," she said during a recent campaign event. "And for them to have been dragged into this through no fault of their own just because of politics and these outside groups is deeply unfair."

Schrier also defends the legislation passed under Biden, like the Inflation Reduction Act, which eased some health insurance premiums and cut costs for insulin as well as overall out-of-pocket drug costs for individuals on Medicare. The new law is also the biggest attempt by Congress ever to respond to climate change, with investments in hydroelectricity and other new energy technology.

“It takes on climate change with the urgency that it deserves,” she said.

Schrier contends that a Republican Congress won’t do much to advance the issues facing voters. “What we've heard is threats to impeach the president, kick people off committees and really not do anything useful for the people of the 8th District,” she said.

As for abortion, the congresswoman said she doesn’t trust any guarantees that Republicans would protect state laws allowing the practice, noting that bills to impose national restrictions have already been filed by Republicans in Congress.

“What's so sad to me is this should not be a partisan issue,” she said. “Republican women get abortions too, Republican women have miscarriages, too.”

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