In Washington's 4th Congressional District, newcomer Democrat Jay Clough is working to paint eight-term incumbent Republican Rep. Doc Hastings as a Washington, D.C., insider who isn't much different than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"It is career politicians like himself who got us to the point of needing bailouts," Clough told the Herald's editorial board Friday.
With Congress's approval rating at just 21 percent according to a recent Gallup poll, incumbents across the nation with lengthy careers in Washington, D.C., like Hastings, are facing challenges from first-time office seekers hoping to turn the public's distrust of the current system into electoral victories.
But Hastings said he believes the 2010 election is a referendum on the policies and actions of the Obama administration and majority Democrats in Congress.
"I respect the choices the people made in 2008, but I think the people didn't expect the massive change they've seen, the massive intrusion of government into their lives," he said.
He said ballooning deficits have scared the electorate and that the health care reform law passed in March and Congress' failure to extend Bush-era tax cuts have left business owners feeling uncertain about the future.
"We still don't know what the tax code will be in January," Hastings said. "Uncertainty is an obstacle to job creation."
Hastings said he'd repeal the health care reform bill if given the chance.
"If lack of health care insurance was the issue, the easiest way to approach that is simply to allow more opportunities to access health insurance," he said. "This bill goes in the opposite direction. It will lead to a government-run system, and we have seen that government-run systems across the globe lead to some sort of rationing."
Clough said he sees flaws in the bill, but rather than starting from scratch he would work to amend the reform law to include medical malpractice lawsuit reforms and pharmaceutical reforms.
"Repeal is not the answer," Clough said. "Going from there and tweaking it is the answer."
Clough, 33, a former Marine now working for Washington River Protection Solutions, entered the race because he doesn't believe Hastings has been aggressive enough in representing the district.
He noted Hastings' lack of leadership roles and committee memberships and compared him to seatmate Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, who in three terms has ascended to become vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, making her the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress.
Clough said although he is running as a Democrat, he doesn't plan to vote along party lines and thinks his values align closely with conservative Central Washington.
He's pro-gun rights, pro-nuclear power and against breaching the Lower Snake River dams.
Clough said if elected, he would seek seats on the agriculture, energy and commerce, natural resources, veterans and small business committees in the House of Representatives.
"I would like to sit on as many committees as possible," he said.
Hastings is the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, and said that allows him to have a hand in policies that affect the entire Northwest, as the committee oversees the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation and federal dams.
"It is a very important committee from a policy standpoint," he said.
He expects that if Republicans take control of the House in November, he will be elevated to committee chairman.
"I'd much rather be chairman and ranking member ... than be a junior member on other committees," Hastings said.
Clough has an uphill battle trying to unseat Hastings, who has trounced every opponent since taking the seat from Rep. Jay Inslee back in 1994.
In the Aug. 17 primary, Hastings, 69, of Pasco, earned 82,909 votes, or 59 percent, in a race against five challengers, including a few coming at him from the far right. Clough came in second with 31,782 votes, or 23 percent.
Hastings also has the upper hand in fundraising, having amassed about $813,000 in contributions for his campaign warchest through the end of July, the last date for which reports are available from the Federal Election Commission.
Clough had raised about $49,000 by the end of July.
While Clough's contributions come primarily from individuals and about $6,600 from Democratic party committees, Hastings received 274 contributions totaling more than $352,000 from various political action committees. Hastings reported receiving only $175 from party committees.
Hastings had spent about $333,000 on the race through July, compared to $43,000 spent by Clough.
Hastings gave more than $267,000 of his money raised to the National Republican Campaign Committee or to a handful of other Republican candidates around the country, according to his FEC reports.
Clough joined a long line of opponents in accusing Hastings -- now seeking a ninth term in office -- of reneging on a pledge to serve no more than five terms when he first ran in 1994.
But Hastings said he never signed any term-limits pledge, and was criticized for it at the time.
"People like Jay (Inslee) and others want to misrepresent what it was," Hastings said.
Hastings was among 227 representatives who voted for a constitutional amendment setting term limits, but it never gained the two-thirds majority needed to advance.
Clough told the Herald he won't serve any more than 10 years if he's elected.
"I promise I won't call it myth or folklore later," he said.