The race to replace longtime state Rep. Shirley Hankins may prove to be one of the state's most underrated and unpredictable legislative campaigns this year.
The 8th District has sent nothing but Republicans to the Legislature since 1992 and by wide margins.
But Democrats have put up their strongest candidate in years - former Richland Councilwoman Carol Moser.
A member of the state Transportation Commission, Moser is a familiar name to district voters.
The House Democratic Campaign Committee, the political arm of the House Democratic Caucus, thought enough of her prospects to cut her campaign a $20,000 check, a rare preprimary contribution in a district that hasn't been a battleground in years.
Securing the local Democratic base should be enough to advance Moser from the Aug. 19 "top two" primary to the general election because the Republican vote will be divided among Richland businessman Skip Novakovich, Richland School Board President Rick Jansons, Benton County sheriff's deputy Brad Klippert of Kennewick and Benton County restaurateur Steve Simmons.
Through July 28, Moser had raised almost $48,000 for her campaign. Besides the $20,000 from the caucus and $2,000 from the state Democratic Party, other large contributions have come primarily from labor interests. She's also received dozens of contributions from individuals.
Simmons had raised more than $15,000, mostly from individuals. Novakovich had raised almost $29,000. A little more than half of that consists of loans from himself or his printing business, with the rest coming mostly from individuals.
Jansons had raised almost $9,000 as of July 28, with small contributions from individuals, complemented by larger checks from a local firefighters union and the Washington Education Association. Klippert has not reported raising or spending any money.
For the moderate Moser, running as a Democrat is all about power. In Olympia, Democrats have it, Republicans don't.
"There's a sense if you can get to the party that holds the key to some of these opportunities then you can get heard," she said.
Moser, 53, also leans on the contacts she's built over the years in Olympia.
"Politics is all about relationships," she said.
Moser says she's fiscally conservative and would support spending cuts before tax increases to balance the state budget, though she doesn't know where she would cut. She said she wouldn't advocate cutting education or public safety. Roughly 45 percent of the state budget is spent on corrections and education, not including higher education.
Moser is moderate on social issues, supporting abortion rights and expressing sympathy for the gay rights movement but stopping short of endorsing gay marriage.
In Olympia, she said she'd push for funding for the Tri-Cities Research District in north Richland. The area has been designated by the state as an innovation partnership zone and includes the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington State University Tri-Cities, the Port of Benton, Hanford contractors, other federal and state agencies and about 80 businesses.
She'd support replacing the Washington Assessment of Student Learning with cheaper computer tests that yield results more quickly, as the Richland School District has advocated.
And she said she'd try to rein in some of the most aggressive climate change ideas being touted involving capping carbon emissions and trading carbon credits.
"I don't think we're ready for it over here," Moser said.
An independent radiation safety specialist, Jansons said his range of experience qualifies him for the job. Jansons, 44, is a member of the Hanford Advisory Board, board secretary for Leadership Tri-Cities and active with the Washington State Agriculture and Forestry Leadership Program.
But he's best known for his work on the school board.
"I have a very broad range of experiences to draw on," he said.
Jansons fashions himself as a moderate Republican who is fiscally conservative but less so on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, areas he believes government doesn't belong in.
He has personally lobbied in Olympia to replace the WASL with the kind of diagnostic computer tests the Richland School District has used. And he argues the education system shouldn't try to prepare all students to attend a four-year university when some are better suited for vocational programs.
"Narrowing it down to one track for all kids doesn't make sense," he said.
Aside from replacing the WASL, Jansons said he doesn't have any ideas for where to cut the state budget to correct the deficit. He, too, opposes raising taxes and said he'd push for building up state reserve accounts so they're large enough to weather the ups and downs of the economic cycle.
Jansons said he'd push for the development of an energy park north of Richland that would include new nuclear, solar and biomass facilities. And he wants to hold the line on government regulations, suggesting a few that provide benefits to workers that he says are unworkable for business.
"I'm especially anxious to not impose new ones," he said.
Novakovich, 60, believes his business, civic and other experiences stand up with anyone else's and challenges voters to compare.
"I think if people do that, my skills, education and business experience will far outshine the other candidates," said Novakovich, who has served on a long list of local boards.
He, too, opposes raising taxes to plug the budget hole but isn't sure where cuts should be made.
"We've got to stop spending and then look where we can cut expenses," he said.
He supports cutting taxes on business, perhaps by delaying or deferring business and occupation taxes or taxes on equipment and inventory until new businesses can establish themselves.
"Let's find some ways to give them some breaks until they're on their feet," he said.
He wants to encourage more private insurers to offer individual health insurance to boost competition but isn't sure how to do it. And he wants to press for more treatment and rehabilitation programs to help the mentally ill and drug addicted stay out of jails and prisons.
"They're there because there's no other help for them," Novakovich said.
A Christian conservative, Novakovich personally opposes abortion and gay marriage but indicated he might vote differently based on the circumstances should measures dealing with either issue arise in the Legislature.
Simmons, 55, declares that "of all five candidates, I am the business advocate for the group."
He's chairman-elect for the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, vice chairman of the Washington State Restaurant Association and active with the Tri-Cities Legislative Council.
He calls himself a fiscal conservative who is more socially moderate, though he opposes abortion and gay marriage.
"I think I mostly reflect the values of the district," he said.
Simmons opposes tax increases to plug the state's budget hole but can't specify where cuts should be made.
He supports repealing the state estate tax, saying heirs often have to sell small businesses they inherit from their parents just to pay the taxes.
"It's tough enough when a family member dies," he said.
Simmons said the Legislature has imposed too many mandates on schools, making it difficult for them to tailor their programs to meet their own unique needs.
And he, too, supports boosting funding for counseling and rehabilitation programs for the mentally ill and drug addicted in the state's jails and prisons.
"I believe there's a return on investment in keeping them out of jail," he said.
Klippert, 51, a Benton County sheriff's deputy, is unabashedly conservative.
"I'm probably the most conservative of the five candidates," he said.
He's out front with his opposition to abortion and gay marriage and supports allowing time in school for prayer. He also is an advocate for building more prisons, reducing amenities and programs available to inmates and lengthening sentences for drug and other crimes.
Klippert also opposes tax increases and his lone idea for fixing the budget problem is to elect Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi and let him show the way.
"It will no longer be an issue," Klippert said.
He supports repealing coverage mandates placed on insurance companies providing individual health insurance and allowing them to offer more flexible options.
"You and I cannot shop to get the insurance we can afford," Klippert said.
He also supports assessing the business and occupation tax against profits, not gross receipts, to allow startup companies to establish themselves.