Backers of Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Democratic challenger George Fearing are likely to get a good idea where they stand with voters in the Aug. 19 "top two" primary.
That's because it's unlikely perennial candidate Gordon Pross of Ellensburg will poll well enough to dramatically change the outcome. Pross again is running as a Republican.
Pross first ran as a Democrat against Hastings in 1998 and got 24 percent in the general election. That's proved to be the high-water mark of his political career.
He ran against Hastings as a Republican in 2000 and 2002 and for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and 2006, never polling better than 6 percent in the primary. He says he campaigned for president last year but his bid was thwarted when he couldn't get on the ballot in New Hampshire.
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Instead, this month's primary likely will mark a key moment for Fearing's scrappy campaign, showing precisely how his message is resonating with voters. Fearing has no opposition in the Democratic primary.
Hastings never has been seriously threatened since his first re-election campaign in 1996.
At 67, he is seeking his eighth two-year term and says energy policy is his top priority. He supports the development of more nuclear, solar and wind power and drilling for oil offshore, in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and on other federal lands.
"I think the biggest issue is the need to become energy independent," Hastings said.
His other priorities include funding the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's new campus and pressing for Hanford cleanup. Though he's drawn fire from Fearing and previous challengers for not sitting on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Hastings said he's drawn plenty of attention to Hanford as chairman of the Nuclear Cleanup Caucus.
"As a result, I think we are largely on track," Hastings said.
He argues his seat on the House Rules Committee has allowed him to build key relationships he's used to help drive the creation of the Department of Energy's Office of River Protection at Hanford and a program to compensate apple growers for poor market conditions.
Hastings said he'll continue to support efforts, such as the proposed Colombian Free Trade Agreement and the federal Market Access Program, to reduce trade barriers and promote Washington's farm products to other countries.
Hastings continues to oppose timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, saying the troop surge has worked.
"Timetables only give your enemies a deadline for when you start planning your next offensive," Hastings said.
He continues to support the expansion of health savings accounts, tax credits for health care costs and association health plans designed to provide insurance coverage to the self-employed and employees of small businesses.
"I think the fundamental direction we need to go is to give people more choices as to how they get their health care," Hastings said.
He also supports limiting legal liability for doctors, something critics say would reduce protections for patients but supporters argue would reduce medical costs for all.
Hastings continues to call for a guest worker program that would allow undocumented immigrants to work in Washington fields legally. And he said he'll press for extending the $1,000 per child tax credit, breaks on the estate tax and provisions that allow Washington residents to deduct sales taxes on their federal income tax returns.
Through June, Hastings had raised $480,000 for his campaign.
Fearing hasn't raised the kind of money he once hoped to and hasn't managed to turn the race into one that appears on any political analyst's watch list. But he's run an active campaign providing a steady drumbeat of criticism against Hastings.
A Kennewick attorney, Fearing ran against and lost to moderate state Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, in 2006 while swearing off campaign contributions from all but friends. A supporter of publicly funded campaigns, Fearing is accepting contributions from interest groups and others this time around and raised $172,000 through June.
"Until that happens, I need to spend my time fundraising," Fearing said.
Fearing says he doesn't agree with his party all the time - he calls himself pro-dam and pro-gun, for instance.
If elected Fearing says he'd be more outspoken than Hastings in pressing for Hanford cleanup money, saying he'd "figuratively if not literally scream to make sure the federal government lives up to its commitments." He also pledges to seek assignments to the House Agriculture and House Energy and Commerce committees.
Fearing said he'd support repealing some tax breaks for big business - such as the petroleum industry - and all of the Bush tax cuts save for the $1,000 per child tax credit, saying they have favored the wealthy.
In Iraq, Fearing supports a plan backed by other Democratic congressional candidates that calls for the beginning of an immediate troop withdrawal without setting a timeline for completing it and promotes diplomatic and economic support.
On the energy front, Fearing supports a windfall tax on oil companies and legislation barring oil and gas companies from obtaining new leases on federally owned lands until they are developing wells on federal lands they're already leasing. He opposes offshore drilling and drilling in ANWR for the time being.
"I'm not 100 percent opposed. I don't support it now because we don't need it now," Fearing said.
Fearing supports universal health care provided by the government, increasing spending on work force training programs and tax credits to help pay for college tuition.
And he opposes temporary worker programs for migrants, arguing they should be granted citizenship if they can demonstrate employment and have no felony convictions.
Despite the obstacles, Pross fully expects to qualify for the general election.
As part of his "axe taxes" mantra Pross builds his campaign around his idea for all taxes to be replaced by a 10 percent flat income tax. Revenues would be split equally by federal, state and local governments. A tiny fraction would be used for publicly funded campaigns.
Pross hasn't reported raising or spending any money.