SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — For the first time in Washington history, two candidates from the same party will face off in a general election for a U.S. House seat.
Republicans Clint Didier and Dan Newhouse advanced Tuesday from a crowded field of candidates in the open 4th Congressional District primary election.
Since 2008 Washington has had a top-two primary system, meaning that the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation advance to the general election.
Didier, a former NFL star, and Newhouse, a Yakima Valley farmer, drew the most votes in early returns, setting up a showdown between Newhouse, a mainstream conservative, and Didier, a tea party favorite.
In the 4th District a dozen candidates — eight Republicans, two independents and two Democrats — had been seeking to replace retiring Republican Rep. Doc Hastings.
“We believe the results indicate that the voters clearly want a candidate who will go back to Washington, D.C., and get results,” Newhouse said. “I’ll fight to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, repeal and replace Obamacare, and protect our 2nd Amendment rights.”
Newhouse said he will focus on central Washington priorities such as water conservation and cleaning up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Didier said he was “humbled and proud” by the support he received. Voters “are telling us they understand that this is an important race to push the ‘reset’ button on both the country and the Republican Party,” he said in a statement.
He then turned to football analogies, stating the “game clock is still ticking on this country” and “we’re in the red zone, and the voters have until November to make the choices that will make America a winner — again.”
The 4th District in central Washington, which includes Yakima and the Tri-Cities, hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1992. Hastings generally cruised to victory since winning the seat in 1994.
Newhouse, a former legislator and state agriculture director, had raised the most money among candidates in the race. Didier, a farmer from Eltopia who won two Super Bowl rings playing with Washington, had the most name recognition.
State Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, and Tri-Cities lawyer George Cicotte had assembled good-sized war chests among the GOP candidates but failed to take one of the top spots.
The district covers one of the nation’s major fruit and vegetable baskets, growing much of the U.S. supply of apples, cherries, grapes and hops to flavor beer. It’s also home to the giant Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a federal installation that contains the nation’s largest volume of nuclear waste and is engaged in a multibillion-dollar cleanup.
Agriculture and Hanford pose challenges for the GOP candidates who have generally opposed government spending and have often advocated for stricter immigration requirements. Agriculture requires tens of thousands of migrant farmworkers, many from Mexico, to work the crops. Hanford, meanwhile, costs taxpayers $2 billion per year in environmental cleanup costs.
In Washington’s nine other congressional districts the incumbents all easily advanced to the general election.
In a closely watched state legislative race, early results showed a tight re-election contest for a Democratic state senator who broke from his party to join Republicans in a coalition that has controlled the chamber.
With about 23,000 votes in, Sen. Tim Sheldon was in second place behind Democratic challenger Irene Bowling. And another challenger, Republican Travis Couture, was close behind in third. Only a few hundred votes separated the contenders.
The candidates are vying to represent the 35th District, which covers Mason and parts of Thurston and Kitsap counties.
The race was one of only a handful of legislative contests that would have direct fallout from Tuesday’s primary. Most races either had an uncontested incumbent or just two candidates, meaning both would automatically move on to the general election.
Currently, the majority Republican coalition holds a 26-23 advantage in the Senate, but 25 of the chamber’s 49 seats are in play this year.