POLITICS

Marilyn Strickland Elected First Black Member Of Congress From The Pacific Northwest

Strickland, a former mayor and big business advocate, defeated Beth Doglio, the progressive favorite in the 2020 election.

Marilyn Strickland is projected to win the race for Washington’s 10th Congressional District, The Associated Press reported Wednesday ― putting her on track to become the first Black member of Congress from the Pacific Northwest, and the first ever Korean-American woman in the legislative body.

Strickland, 58, a former mayor of Tacoma and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, defeated state Rep. Beth Doglio, 55, who had the backing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other left-leaning groups. Both women are Democrats.

“Marilyn was not only a good fit for the district, she was making history,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a Seattle-based Democratic strategist. (Kaushik consulted for former state Rep. Kristine Reeves, who came in third place behind Strickland and Doglio in the primary for Washington’s 10th and subsequently endorsed Strickland.)

The 10th, which hugs the southern portion of Puget Sound from Olympia to the Tacoma suburbs, became an open seat when Rep. Denny Heck, a four-term Democrat, announced plans to run for lieutenant governor.

Thanks to Washington state’s nonpartisan, “jungle” primary system, which enables the two top vote-getters to proceed to the general election regardless of party, both general election candidates this year were Democrats.

Notwithstanding the historic nature of her victory, Strickland’s win is a blow to progressives who took issue with the more moderate Democrat’s tenure as mayor and her work for Seattle’s business community. Strickland was in charge of the Seattle Chamber when it joined forces with Amazon to pressure the city into overturning a proposed tax on the employees of big companies to fund services for the growing population of chronically homeless people. The chamber went on to spend $2.5 million trying to unseat city council members who either had supported the tax or had not taken a firm position on it.

There are two wings of the Democratic Party, and they both have great strengths. Sandeep Kaushik, Democratic strategist

Doglio, by contrast, had built a career as an environmental and women’s rights activist at home in the progressive movement. She ran on the now-standard platform of ambitious progressive ideas, including ‘Medicare for All,’ tuition-free public college and the Green New Deal.

Doglio’s defeat is a particularly harsh blow for the Congressional Progressive Caucus and its chairwoman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Seattle Democrat.

Jayapal, eager to add another authentic progressive voice to Washington state’s congressional delegation, mobilized the resources of the CPC’s PAC and her own Medicare for All PAC behind Doglio in both the primary and the general election. As part of the CPC’s first ever outside-spending program, the PAC’s independent expenditure arm spent more than $640,000 to elect Doglio. The Medicare for All PAC’s outside spending arm spent $190,000 on her behalf.

As of mid-October, however, Strickland’s campaign had raised slightly more than Doglio’s, offsetting some of Doglio’s outside spending advantage.

The outcome is “an indication, along with other indications we’ve had this year, like Joe Biden’s victory in the Democratic presidential primary, that the claims that all the energy in the party is on the left, and the progressive wing is on the ascendancy, are not precisely right,” Kaushik said. “The story is more complicated than that. There are two wings of the Democratic Party, and they both have great strengths.” 

 

Marilyn Strickland has drawn criticism from the left for her work as head of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerc
Marilyn Strickland has drawn criticism from the left for her work as head of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Washington’s 10th was never likely to be fertile ground for hardcore progressives of the kind embodied by Doglio. The state capital, Olympia, is progressive, but the district is also home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the largest military base on the West Coast. As a result, the district has a large population of active-duty military families and veterans, many of whom are Republican or lean conservative. 

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in 2016 by less than 12 percentage points in Washington’s 10th, compared with 70 points in Jayapal’s district. Heck, the Democrat vacating the seat, has legislated as a moderate with a focus on national security issues, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Some critics also wonder why the CPC chose to get behind Doglio in the primary, rather than Reeves. Reeves, who is Black, has a less pristine progressive record than Doglio, but she unseated a Republican to win her state legislative seat and has experience in the defense industry.

“It was always going to be an uphill struggle for a candidate running that far left,” Kaushik said. “I was surprised that the Progressive Caucus played so hard and spent so much money in this race, particularly in the general election.”