After the first day of primary ballot counts, Issaquah pediatrician Kim Schrier took a narrow lead against her Democratic opponents for the Eighth Congressional District House seat Tuesday—but the coming days could easily shift in favor of King County prosecutor Jason Rittereiser.
Three first-time Democratic candidates are competing for a spot in the November 6 general election to face Republican Dino Rossi, who raked in the most votes at 43 percent.
Ballots counted Tuesday night gave Schrier 18.8 percent of votes—a 1.2-percentage point lead, or 1,261-vote margin over Rittereiser. In King County, Schrier received 21.3 percent compared to Rittereiser's 18.2 percent; Rossi got 39.3 percent.
Shannon Hader, also a doctor with a background in public health administration, received just 12.6 percent of the votes.
Schrier told her crowd of cheering supporters at her election night party, "I am feeling very optimistic that we are on track to make history."
While Schrier's main competition is still Rittereiser, all the Democratic candidates—from Schrier, to Rittereiser, to Hader—seemed to be united in their efforts to pit their voters against Rossi no matter the outcome.
At Issaquah's YWCA, Schrier's message after the election results targeted Rossi, not Rittereiser, and slammed the Republican several times as a career politician and an anti-choice candidate. She criticized Rossi's policies from his health care stand, to his education policies, to his support for president Donald Trump and tariffs that impacted the state's farmers.
Schrier's financial advantage over Rittereiser wasn't reflected in the first day's ballot count. Schrier raised $1.6 million in contributions—well over Rittereiser's $898,000, according to the Federal Elections Commission. She has spent about $300,000 more than her main Democratic competition.
Rossi is the only Republican running and, with no votes to split, was expected to be the frontrunner in the primary. Rossi raised about $3 million.
After the election results were posted, Rittereiser thanked his family and volunteers in a brief written statement.
“We knew this would be a close race and I commend Dr. Schrier and Dr. Hader on running strong campaigns," Rittereiser said. "We will keep pushing forward until every vote is counted and the results are clear.”
Schrier said her campaign knocked on 80,000 doors and called 90,000 phones, including parts of Central Washington. Schrier said that while Rittereiser undoubtedly has a hometown advantage in Ellensburg, she continued to campaign there.
"We're reaching voters everywhere," Schrier said. "I have no doubt that (Rittereiser) has a hometown advantage. I also know that I have significant support. There is something that happens with moms and with grandmas when they meet me."
Whether Schrier is competitive enough to beat Rossi will be another question; previous polling by a national Democratic group concluded that Rittereiser is the only one who can beat Rossi, who has been in the political scene for decades and has name recognition throughout the district.
The Eighth Congressional District spans areas both east and west of the Cascades, including Ellensburg and eastern parts of King and Pierce counties. Rittereiser, an Ellensburg native, is the only candidate who has roots east of the Cascades.
When asked whether she's concerned about her competitiveness against Rossi, Schrier said her polling showed she would beat Rittereiser by 1 percentage point, and that she believes she can beat him.
"I'm trusting my gut on this," Schrier said, adding that her strategy would include making a stark contrast between her and Rossi and has the strength of organized labor. "I have really built an army over the past year."
Schrier entered the race in August 2017 and made health care the central focus of her campaign; she supports universal health care and touted that she would be the only female doctor in Congress if elected. In ads leading up to the election, she said she would make women's reproductive rights a top priority.
U.S. representative Dave Reichert—who has represented the Eighth Congressional District since 2004—announced his retirement in September, leaving an open race that left the district vulnerable to a Democratic takeover. In 2016, the longtime incumbent took 60.2 percent of the votes in the general election.
"The bickering that's going on right now that has resulted in a stalemate I think is a perfect example of why we don't need another career politician in this seat," Schrier said.
Updated 1:32pm on August 8, 2018, to correct that Rossi got the most votes out of all candidates, not a majority of votes, at 43 percent. Updated 4:01pm to include Kittitas County results Tuesday night, which slightly narrowed the gap between Schrier and Rittereiser.