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caption: Marilyn Strickland is a former Tacoma Mayor and a former CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. She was elected to Congress in November 2020, representing Washington's 10th Congressional District.
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Marilyn Strickland is a former Tacoma Mayor and a former CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. She was elected to Congress in November 2020, representing Washington's 10th Congressional District.
Credit: Strickland campaign

Washington state Democrats point fingers after losses in U.S. House

As Democrats in the other Washington argue about who is to blame for the loss of US. House seats to Republicans, a similar debate is taking shape in the aftermath of the race for the 10th Congressional District here in Washington state.

Some centrist Democrats complain that progressive political action committees spent over a million dollars on independent expenditures, including $400,000 in attack ads, in a race that pitted one Democrat against another.

“I am way more sympathetic if it was Democrat versus Republican, because that affects the balance of Congress,” said Courtney Swanson, a Navy Veteran who lives in Tumwater in the 10th District.

Swanson voted for former Tacoma mayor Marilyn Strickland, who won the open seat by a big margin of around 15 percentage points. That's despite the fact that PACs supporting her opponent, climate activist and state representative Beth Doglio, dramatically outspent PACs that supported Strickland.

Groups including the Service Employees International Union PAC and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union PAC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on anti-Strickland ads. But Doglio’s biggest PAC supporter was fellow Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal.

Jayapal represents the 7th Congressional District, which includes Seattle, and co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) PAC, which spent more on this race than any other in the country: $643,000. Jayapal also runs the Medicare for All PAC that backed Doglio with an additional $190,000.

Seattle political consultant Heather Weiner said the money was well-spent by progressive PACs in this race. She called it “a shot across the bow” against centrist Democrats like Strickland who don’t vote the way progressive labor and environmental groups expect.

For her part, Pramila Jayapal said the Democratic Party has failed to "energize the base," and that the spending on the 10th was the right focus for the progressive PAC in 2020.

“You have to recognize that these races simply don't get resources from the Democratic establishment, because of our top-two system,” she said.

In total, pro-Doglio PACs outspent those backing Strickland 8-1 in the general election.

“That’s money that could have been spent in other races around the country to beat Republicans…that’s a big waste of money for a Democrat on Democrat race,” said Tim Punke, a Democrat and public affairs consultant based in Seattle.

Democrats are on track to lose at least least 8 seats to Republicans in a year that they had expected to make big gains.

In California’s 39th Congressional District, for instance, Democrat Gil Cisneros lost by a few thousand votes.

Ironically, Cisneros is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that Jayapal Co-Chairs.

Now, Marilyn Strickland heads to Congress. She’s the first Black person ever elected to the Congress from the Northwest. She is also one of three Korean-American women elected to congress for the first time ever this year.

One is former California State Assemblywoman Young Kim, a Republican who ousted incumbent Progressive Democrat Gil Cisneros.

On the other side of the 10th congressional district race, Marilyn Strickland also got PAC support of around $30,000 from Boeing and other companies.

Weiner, the political consultant, said she thinks big businesess may have avoided spending more in 2020 becausethey got burned in Seattle City Council races last year.

Amazon spent more than a million dollars on those races, funneled through The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce PAC. At the time, Marilyn Strickland was President and CEO of the Chamber.

Amazon was subsequently accused by Bernie Sanders and others of trying to buy the election. In the end, almost none of the business-backed candidates won in Seattle.

“I don't think it would have been a good investment to make for those big business interests to [back PACs in support of] Strickland. She’s already had that blow up in her face with the Seattle city council, and it would just have raised that as a story,” Weiner said.

Marilyn Strickland and Beth Dolgio could not be reached for comment by the time this story was originally published.