Fundraising figures give McMorris Rodgers an edge, but a less substantial one than a House leadership member might typically expect in a reelection bid. At the end of July, McMorris Rodgers led Brown in cash on hand by only $300,000, a narrow margin. She outspent Brown in the primary, too, pushing $2.7 million into the race so far compared with Brown’s $1.4 million. Experts think it’s unlikely that Brown will be able to compete with McMorris Rodgers on a dollar-for-dollar level. Still, McMorris Rodgers is known as a prodigious fund-raiser, and her relatively narrow lead over Brown is part of why national Democrats think the race is winnable. And the Spokane media markets aren’t particularly expensive, which Kondik says could even the footing between the two candidates.
For Brown to win the seat, she’ll need to drive up turnout in Spokane, her base, and likely also in areas around Pullman and Walla Walla. And, of course, Brown needs some of the anti-establishment spirit that struck Foley in 1994. She’s banking, to some extent, on the idea that the Fifth District is still a place that will expel a powerful incumbent. “Despite slow suburbanization of greater Spokane and some of the agriculture sector in Eastern Washington, there still remains a deep vein of populism and a jaundiced eye toward the establishment and entrenched politicians within the establishment, and that gives rise to an occasional upheaval,” Christian Sinderman says. It’s that dynamic that could provide Brown with the extra boost she would need to win a seat that does favor Republicans.
McMorris Rodgers’s campaign, on the other hand, hopes to point to tuition increases that were enacted during Brown’s time as the state Senate’s majority leader to help it win over some students. Her calculus is easier. She needs to portray herself as a local first, a representative who votes with the district, fits it well, and can get results in D.C. But that in itself presents challenges. Even in a district Trump won handedly, and where his approval rating remains 45 percent, higher than the national average, dissatisfaction with the capital—and with things like tariffs—could be enough to push some voters to the other option: Brown.
There’s something similar about the two candidates. Their campaigns both emphasize their candidate’s rural roots, note that they were the first in their families to go to college, and talk up legislative accomplishments. Those aren’t particularly hard to find after a combined 44 years in the state and federal legislatures. And both are women who have a proven track record managing legislators “that have a high estimation of themselves,” as Mark Schoesler—also a former state Senate majority leader—put it.
But if the Democrats’ fabled “blue wave” does engulf Washington State, it’s possible that McMorris Rodgers, almost certainly the highest-ranking Republican who would be defeated in such a situation (Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise both represent incredibly safe seats), would become the face of the loss. It’s not often that such a high-ranking member loses reelection. But then, the Fifth District knows that well. Just ask Tom Foley.