By Jim Brunner
Seattle Times staff reporter
Shannon Hader made a comparatively late entry into the Democratic primary race for retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert’s 8th Congressional District seat.
The former federal public-health official has trailed in fundraising — loaning her campaign $300,000 to make up the slack — and has lacked backing from some unions and national political groups that have favored Democratic rivals Kim Schrier and Jason Rittereiser.
But Hader has shown undeniable momentum on one front — sweeping up endorsement after endorsement in recent months from county and legislative-district Democratic organizations.
On Monday night, Hader was endorsed by the Pierce County Democrats during a meeting at a Tacoma union hall. She added that to her collection, which includes the King County Democrats, and seven legislative-level Democratic groups, representing the 11th, 25th, 30th, 31st, 41st, 45th and 47th districts.
Still, the groups represent a swath of involved party volunteers who spent time interviewing the candidates, and came away believing Hader is the best option to take on Republican front-runner Dino Rossi this fall.
All three leading Democrats in the race are first-time candidates. But leaders of groups endorsing Hader pointed to her résumé and detailed grasp of how the federal government works. A longtime official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she most recently led the CDC’s global division on HIV, managing 2,000 people and a budget of $2.4 billion.
“She understands things on a federal level that neither of the other two candidates really understands,” said Allison Taylor, chair of the 30th District Democrats of southwest King County and northwest Pierce County.
Taylor and others said Hader also pursued their groups’ endorsements harder than other candidates, showing up in person at multiple meetings. She said Hader also has “stayed the adult in my opinion” by avoiding involvement in public feuds that have gone on between Rittereiser and Schrier over polling and whether Schrier’s pediatrics practice treats enough poor children.
David Fleetwood, who chairs the 11th Legislative Democrats, said while all three candidates have strengths, Hader “displays a more nuanced view of policy.” The 11th Legislative District includes parts of Renton, Tukwila and south Seattle.
Aaron Schuler, chair of the 47th District Democrats, which includes Hader’s hometown of Auburn, said activists there believe she is better positioned to win than Rittereiser or Schrier. When the group met to consider endorsements, he said he had to intervene to make sure Schrier was even considered.
“She is perceived as being too liberal,” Schuler said of Schrier. He said some view Schrier, who lives in Sammamish, as a wealthy liberal doctor who would appeal more to Seattle Democrats than to the working-class voters of the 8th Congressional District, which has long backed Reichert and never elected a Democrat to the U.S. House.
“I think it is a cultural thing. It is hard to put a specific finger on,” he said.
Schuler added he believes any of the top three Democrats “are strong candidates who can win the election.”
Hader’s campaign has touted the string of endorsements as evidence she’s ready to go toe-to-toe with Rossi in the fall.
“The fact that I have run all the legislative districts that have endorsed so far, it’s very meaningful to me. I think it’s very important,” she said. “Their judgment and insights into the community are really, really important.”
Her rivals’ campaigns pointed to their own endorsements and said the Democratic group endorsements are not the full picture.
“They tell a little bit of the story but I don’t think they are indicative of enthusiasm on the ground,” said Katie Rodihan, a spokeswoman for Schrier, who said the campaign has had 600 volunteers sign up to help.
Schrier’s own list of endorsements includes EMILY’s List, the national Democratic fundraising powerhouse that works to elect Democratic women to Congress. She also has been endorsed by 16 current and former elected officials, the union representing Boeing machinists and split an endorsement with Rittereiser from a coalition of liberal activist groups known as Indivisible, which have organized to oppose President Trump.
Rittereiser, a former deputy prosecutor and attorney who has touted his Ellensburg roots, has won endorsements from unions representing firefighters, longshoremen, plumbers and other trades.
Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for Rittereiser, acknowledged Hader’s momentum among the Democratic activist organizations. But he argued it has come at the expense of Schrier, cutting into her strategy “of trying to convince people she’s the inevitable nominee.”
He has pointed to a leaked poll by a Democratic political-action committee that suggested Rittereiser has the best chance of matching up against Rossi among independent voters in the fall.
Kaushik said the poll “has been a big boost for our campaign … this is a wide open primary race.”
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com; on Twitter: @Jim_Brunner.