Two Jewish candidates for Congress have similar platforms but markedly different closing strategies for uphill battles in Washington’s newly redrawn 1st and 7th Districts.
In the 1st, former state Rep. Laura Ruderman, a veteran political fundraiser, is relying on shoe leather, small donors and a TV blitz to carry her past four other Democrats, a Republican and an independent for the seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, who is running for governor.
In the 7th, political newcomer Andrew Hughes, a Seattle tax lawyer, has used attention-grabbing stunts, anti-incumbency appeals, and self-financing to contend with 12-term veteran Jim McDermott, two other Democrats, two Republicans and a third-party candidate.
Hughes and Ruderman would be the second and third Jews to represent Washington in Congress, and Ruderman would be the first Jewish woman in that capacity.
Primary ballots were mailed last week and must be postmarked by August 7 to be counted. The top two finishers in each district advance to the general election November 6, regardless of party affiliation.
“I feel we have a very tough primary,” Hughes said. “If we poll into the teens, we’ll be happy.”
Ruderman said she anticipated a “very close” outcome.
Both say their Jewish community ties have helped somewhat in fundraising; neither reported any overtly negative reaction to themselves as Jews, but the Jewish vote is a negligible factor for each.
Of the more than 40,000 Jews in the Seattle area, the lion’s share is now in the 9th District, which snakes from the Port of Tacoma through south King County, Southeast Seattle and Mercer Island to Bellevue, and the 7th District, which includes North Seattle. The 1st has a smaller number in the high-tech areas of Redmond and Kirkland.
“It only arises if I see a mezuzah on the door,” said Ruderman, who says she has doorbelled 5,247 homes from Woodinville to Sumas.
Concerning Israel, “some people ascribe certain positions to me because I’m Jewish,” she said. “They assume that I am more hawkish than I am.”
The only Jewish congressman in state history, Republican John R. Miller, represented the 1st District in 1985-93, when it covered North Seattle, south Snohomish County and much of the Eastside suburbs. Now it extends from Kirkland and Redmond east to the crest of the Cascades and north to the Canadian border through mostly rural parts of King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
The Republican-Democrat split is widely regarded as one of the most even in the country.
Ruderman, an active member of Kol HaNeshamah synagogue in West Seattle, has made health care her top issue, asserting that a fuller discussion will move more votes than jobs, and the economy.
She shares mainstream-to-liberal Democratic policies and a Microsoft background with two higher-profile women in the race: Former state revenue director Suzan DelBene and Darcy Burner, ex-president of ProgressiveCongress.org.
Unlike them, however, Ruderman has won elections, serving three two-year terms in the state House from a previously Republican stronghold. After losing a bid for secretary of state in 2004 to incumbent Sam Reed, she formed a consulting business that specialized in fundraising for Democratic candidates.
DelBene, who has spent $1 million of her own money and is backed by state party leaders, and Burner, a more ardent liberal, failed in efforts to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th District — Burner in 2006 and 2008 and DelBene in 2010.
Also expected to make a strong showing is state Rep. Steve Hobbs, who casts himself as a more centrist Democrat. Other candidates are businessman Darshan Rauniyar, a Democrat; independent Larry Ishmael; and the lone Republican, former state Rep. John Koster, who is expected to get the most votes in the primary.
Koster, a social and fiscal conservative, lost congressional races in the 2nd District to Democrat Rick Larsen in 2000 and more narrowly in 2010.
Ruderman’s campaign took some lumps this month when — in a move she says caught her by susprise — her mother formed an independent political action group that ran attack ads targeting DelBene. Critics of the ads included the state’s most powerful Democrat, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. The ads were withdrawn after Ruderman issued a public appeal that they be discontinued.
A poll done for Hobbs before the ad flap showed Koster drawing about 30 percent support and Ruderman trailing most of the other Democrats at about 5 percent, with 27 percent undecided.
Since then, following the recent start of her own TV ads, “I think that our numbers are coming up,” she said. “I like where we are right now.”
An early Jewish contender, state Rep. Roger Goodman, dropped out in April after raising about $250,000 and is running for re-election in the 45th Legislative District.
In the overwhelmingly Democratic 7th District, Hughes hopes to beat Republicans Scott Sutherland and Ron Bemis, Democrats Don Rivers and Charles Allen and Goodspaceguy of the Employmentwealth party to finish second behind McDermott and advance to the general election.
Hughes grew up in Poulsbo, far from any Jewish community, but says he has been moving closer to his roots in recent years.
He planned to run in the 1st District, but with the new boundaries his base in Edmonds was among the 30 percent of new territory in the 7th District, which now stretches from Normandy Park to Edmonds.
To gain attention he has donned scuba gear and stayed in a tank of water for 90 minutes, dramatizing the plight of homeowners whose mortgages are under water. He also spent a night in Westlake Park with the homeless; crossed the district by bicycle, boat and swimming, and visited 30 coffee shops in 30 days.
On serious issues, Hughes has criticized McDermott as out of touch with the times, insufficiently supportive of Israel or harsh enough on Iran, and doing more for the betterment of Africa than to boost Pacific Rim trade through the Port of Seattle.
Despite McDermott’s longtime status as one of the most safely entrenched and reliably liberal Democrats in the House, anything less than 60 percent for the incumbent would indicate he is vulnerable, Hughes insisted.
“The reception we’ve been getting is the best thing we’ve got going,” he said. “We feel that if we can get through the primary, all bets are off.”