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Seattle, Seattle, who is the liberalist of them all?

From left to right, Pramila Jayapal, Joe McDermott and Brady Walkinshaw at 7th Congression District debate in July.
KUOW Photo/Amy Radil
From left to right, Pramila Jayapal, Joe McDermott and Brady Walkinshaw at 7th Congression District debate in July.

National media have called it a race to see who can be the most liberal.

It’s the contest to replace longtime Congressman Jim McDermott in Washington’s 7th Congressional District, which includes most of Seattle and parts of Snohomish County.

The race is on the ballot in the Aug. 2 primary.

The three strongest candidates going into the August primary based on fundraising and endorsements have uniformly progressive views. But they differ on the issues they’d like to champion if elected to Congress.

Two intriguing questions in this campaign: What is the impact of a Bernie Sanders endorsement (and fundraising appeal)? And what is the impact of having the same last name as the outgoing congressman?

Pramila Jayapal
State Sen. Pramila Jayapal came alone to the U.S. from India as a teenager to pursue her studies. She went on to found the group OneAmerica and has been active on immigration reform and raising the minimum wage.

As the best-funded candidate, Jayapal released several ads – the most recent opens saying Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would present a danger to abortion rights. The narrator says Jayapal “will stand up to right-wing attacks” and “lead our fight in Congress for equal pay" for women.

Jayapal has raised $1.2 million.

More than a third of that money has come from outside Washington state – thanks in part to a fundraising appeal last spring from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Jayapal has also been the beneficiary of spending from a Super PAC related to EMILY’s List, which supports women who favor abortion rights. 

Her competitor Joe McDermott’s campaign called the outside spending “highly unusual and frankly unacceptable.” He has pledged not to benefit from outside spending in his race.

Jayapal doesn’t actually live in the 7th District – a quirk of Washington state’s most recent redistricting.

“I’ve lived in the 7th Congressional District for 21 years," she said. "Then they redrew it two years ago, and I am now 25 blocks from the line." She lives in Columbia City.

But there is no law requiring members of Congress to live in their districts. If elected, Jayapal said, “I would move – but I would try to keep my house because I am convinced that they are going to redistrict that little piece of Seattle back in."

Joe McDermott
McDermott is a former state legislator and third-generation resident of West Seattle. He currently chairs the King County Council. He said two of the driving issues for his candidacy are campaign finance reform and gun control, including a ban on selling assault weapons.

In his campaign ad, a group of women say McDermott defended funding for public health clinics while on the County Council. Then the camera goes to McDermott, who is holding what his campaign says is a decommissioned AR-15.

In the ad, McDermott says, “Now gun violence is our public health crisis. On the County Council, we created a program to buy gun safes to keep our children safe. In Congress, I’ll take on the NRA and ban assault weapons plaguing our communities.”

That Joe McDermott and Rep. Jim McDermott share the same last name is purely coincidental. But University of Washington sociology professor Paul Burstein said it can’t hurt, especially in a crowded primary.

“This is likely to help the current candidate with the same last name,” Burstein said.

Some people are probably unaware of Jim McDermott’s retirement.

“Other people may know that there’s somebody new, that there’s going to be a replacement, but nevertheless the link in names can feel like something to go on,” Burstein said.

In April, Joe McDermott commissioned a poll that showed him in the lead, although he has raised less money than his main competitors, with $426,000.

Brady Piñero Walkinshaw
Walkinshaw, the youngest of the three candidates, is a state representative for Seattle. He grew up in rural Washington. His mother came here from Cuba with her parents.

He formerly worked at the Gates Foundation. In the state Legislature, Walkinshaw worked on improving access to mental health services and increasing the number of jobs for people released from prison. He has said climate change is “the most pressing issue” of his generation and that it prompted him to run for Congress.

Inhis ad, a narrator says, “The Seattle Times calls Brady ‘an unabashed progressive, the best to get things done in Washington, D.C.’”

Walkinshaw adds, “Congress is broken. We can solve big challenges like climate change, if we have the courage to work together.”

Walkinshaw has received $888,000 in campaign contributions, putting him between Jayapal and McDermott. 

Both McDermott and Walkinshaw are gay and have talked about their husbands while on the campaign trail. Walkinshaw said when he was appointed to the state Legislature in the 43rd District, he and his husband went to meet Republican legislators in Eastern Washington just to create a personal connection and seek common ground.

There are nine candidates for the 7th Congressional District. Five are Democrats including former Burien mayor Arun Jhaveri. There are two Republicans including Craig Keller who is concerned about illegal immigration and who helped organize for Trump in Washington. There are two candidates with no political party affiliation.

Year started with KUOW: 2005