Thursday's surprise announcement by Rep. Doc Hastings that he will not seek re-election has set the stage for a battle royal among the 10-term congressman's fellow Republicans in Washington state's 4th Congressional District.
No sooner had Hastings announced his retirement than the name on most Republican lips was state Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry. A solid conservative, Holmquist Newbry is considered one of the party's best public speakers and brightest stars in the state.
She was elected to the state House of Representatives at 25, and became the youngest female state senator in Washington history when she won her seat at age 31 in 2006. She married and became a mother while in the legislature. Last year, Holmquist Newbry became chairwoman of the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
Dan Newhouse, son of longtime state Rep. Irv Newhouse and himself a former legislator, is considered the leading rival to Holmquist Newbry. The younger Newhouse surprised fellow Republicans nearly a decade ago when he resigned his legislative seat to accept appointment as state agriculture director under Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire.
Forced to resign the agriculture post when Jay Inslee became governor last year, Newhouse is popular among the 4th District's large farming community.
But Newhouse could have problems with GOP activists. Many simply won't forgive a Republican who runs for office after having worked in a Democratic administration, as Jon Huntsman found out when he fared miserably as a Republican presidential hopeful in 2012 after serving as Barack Obama's ambassador to China.
Rounding out a primary with Holmquist Newbry and Newhouse is likely to be state Sen. Curtis King of Yakima. All three are considered strong conservatives with few differences on the issues.
A wild card in the race could be Clint Didier, onetime tight end for the Washington Redskins and the Green Bay Packers. Now overseeing a large family farm in Pasco, Wash., Didier unsuccessfully sought the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2010 on a platform of abolishing the U.S. Department of Education and taking a hard line on illegal immigration.
Should he run for Congress, Didier, 54, would be an instant favorite of the area tea party backers and Ron Paul supporters.
"You can go to the bank on [Washington Republican Reps.] Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler going all out for Janéa in the primary, no matter how contested it gets," one prominent Washington Republican, who requested anonymity, told Newsmax. "It's important to them to elect another conservative Republican who happens to be a woman."
Washington state has had a longer history than most states of electing conservative Republican women to Congress.
In 1960, Republican and solid conservative Catherine May Bedell won the 4th District, and she held it until her defeat in 1970.
McMorris Rodgers, who won her first term in 2002, is now chairman of the House Republican Conference and last month earned high marks for delivering the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address.
Herrera Beutler, a former staffer and protégé of McMorris Rodgers, was elected to Congress in 2010 and is considered one of her party's best young spokeswomen.
Hastings' exit announcement brings to 19 the number of Republican U.S. representatives who are leaving office in 2014.
Like most of the House districts relinquished by Republicans this year, Hastings' 4th District is likely to be retained by the eventual Republican candidate. With agriculture and nuclear energy its major resources, the 4th District has been in Republican hands for all but two of the last 34 years.
The exception was in 1992, when Democrat Inslee won the seat against Hastings. He lost a rematch in 1994, relocated and later won the 1st District seat before becoming governor of the Evergreen State in January 2013.
"We have that stupid primary system in which everyone is on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters meet in a run-off in November," former Washington state GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur told Newsmax. "Democrats might have a chance of sneaking into a run-off, but with having to play defense in so many seats, I don't see them investing a lot in the 4th."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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