Stalwarts take sides in race for Kilmer’s seat

Emily Randall.

Emily Randall.

A growing constellation of Democratic Party influencers are choosing sides in the duel for a U.S. House seat between state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and state Sen. Emily Randall.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, the latest notable party leader to involve themselves in the intraparty scrum, endorsed Randall on Monday.

Randall and Franz are vying to succeed Congressman Derek Kilmer in the 6th Congressional District, which includes Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties as well as a portion of Pierce County, including the city of Tacoma.

Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, has held the seat for more than a decade.

Emily Randall.

Emily Randall.

Jinkins’ announcement follows U.S. Sen. Patty Murray making a rare entry into a primary fray among Democrats. She, too, is backing Randall, whom she campaigned alongside when both sought reelection in 2022.

In recent days, Randall secured support from Congresswomen Marie Gluesenkamp Perez and Marilyn Strickland, whose districts border the 6th.

Hilary Franz.

Hilary Franz.

Meanwhile, Franz is backed by Kilmer, who sought her out to be his successor before revealing he did not plan to seek another term.

Former congressman Norm Dicks, who held the seat for nearly five decades before Kilmer, is in Franz’s camp, too. As are Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and 10 federally recognized tribes.

Collectively the endorsements aren’t expected to be a deciding factor in who advances from the August primary. Two Republicans are also in the running.

‘Limited utility’

Endorsements have a “limited utility,” said veteran Democratic consultant Ron Dotzauer. Their value is in creating a sense of momentum which, in turn, helps attract volunteers and donors to a campaign, he said.

“At the end of the day, does an endorsement actually translate into votes? I don’t think so,” he said.

The endorsements are adding an element of intrigue to the contest. Party veterans and political observers say Kilmer’s attempt to clear the field for Franz as his heir apparent is backfiring as Randall has racked up several noteworthy endorsers.

Randy Pepple, a longtime Republican consultant, suggested the endorsements are primarily about fundraising.

“This allows Emily Randall to say this is not a coronation for Hilary Franz because Derek Kilmer put a crown on her head,” he said. “This allows her to go to donors to say Patty Murray says ‘I’m the one’.”

Franz, Randall and two Republican candidates — state Sen. Drew MacEwen and Elizabeth Kreiselmaier — are competing to serve the 6th Congressional District. Kilmer announced Nov. 9 that he would not seek a seventh term.

The next day, Franz, who has been lands commissioner for two terms, ended her campaign for governor and launched a new one for the congressional seat, with Kilmer’s backing.

Randall, who is in her second term representing the 26th Legislative District encompassing parts of Pierce and Kitsap counties, entered a week later. She is hoping to become the first LGBTQ+ Latina elected to Congress.

The district leans Democratic, but with two Republicans running, it is likely only one of the Democrats will make it through the August primary.

‘I was a little surprised’

Franz led all candidates in fundraising at the close of 2023 with $400,000 raised as of Dec. 31. Randall, meanwhile, hauled in $225,000 by the end of the year.

The next fundraising deadline is March 31.

Jinkins joins Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, in backing Randall. Jinkins’ voice transcends her party politics as she is Washington’s first lesbian House speaker.

“As the first ever LGBTQ+ Latina elected to Congress, Emily would bring a perspective and experiences that are sorely needed,” Jinkins said in a statement issued by the campaign.

Murray, Washington’s powerful senior senator, has been historically averse to taking sides in a primary, especially when two or more Democrats are vying for an open seat. Yet she backed Randall last Monday.

“I don’t typically endorse in primaries, but I know Emily and I simply could not sit on the sidelines because I am that excited about seeing her in Congress,” she said in an emailed response to questions.

The two have known each other since Randall’s first run for Senate in 2018. They had some joint campaign appearances in 2022.

“I was a little surprised,” Randall said of Murray’s decision, “because I know she doesn’t usually get involved at this stage. It’s definitely a signal to folks in D.C. and politically engaged people that I have a record, and Patty Murray’s support.”

Eve Zhurbinskiy, Franz’s campaign manager, highlighted backing they’d secured from two tribes and a union, giving Franz support from 20 unions and 10 federally recognized tribes in Washington.

“Working folks across the 6th Congressional District know Hilary’s record and values, and they know she will continue to deliver for them in Congress,” she wrote in an email. The backing of labor and tribes in the district “ensures that we have a strong volunteer base to get our message out to voters.”

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Jerry Cornfield writes for the Washington State Standard (https://washingtonstatestandard.com), an independent, nonprofit news organization that produces original reporting on policy and politics.

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