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Serial Killer-Hunting Sheriff Wants to Flip Washington Red

(Bloomberg) -- Dave Reichert is best known in Washington State for his two-decade pursuit of one of the country’s worst criminals: The Green River Killer, responsible for at least 49 murders.

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Reichert went from being the sheriff who helped catch the killer to becoming the rare Republican representing part of the Seattle suburbs in Congress. Now he faces a bigger challenge: running to be the first Republican governor of the solidly blue state in more than 40 years.

Reichert, 73, sees an opening this November with the Democratic incumbent retiring and signs that Washington voters are second-guessing the state’s most progressive policies. A slate of ballot initiatives giving voters the chance to repeal some of those policies could drive just enough turnout from the centrist and conservative voters that Reichert would need to win.

“The timing’s right and the issues are right,” Reichert said in an interview in Seattle. “People are looking for some moderation.”

The challenge for a Republican campaigning on crossover appeal will be sharing the ballot with Donald Trump, who is all-but-certain to seal his party’s nomination and face off against President Joe Biden in the presidential race. Reichert is one of the last major Republican candidates in the US who hasn’t endorsed Trump, a move that could alienate conservative support or shield him from Democratic criticism.

Trump has some unique “personality idiosyncrasies,” Reichert said. “I’ve worked with a lot of difficult people in my time.”

Washington’s electoral calendar officially kicked off on Tuesday, with the state holding its Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

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For his part, Reichert first has to navigate the gubernatorial primary in August, but he’s already polling roughly even with Bob Ferguson, the Democratic attorney general who’s been endorsed by outgoing Governor Jay Inslee. Reichert and Ferguson lead the pack of candidates, with the top two contenders from the primary advancing to the general election in November.

Even Democrats acknowledge that Reichert is the strongest candidate Republicans could field, given his name recognition in the state’s most populous county where he worked in the sheriff’s office for more than three decades.

He also represented a Democratic-leaning district including part of the Seattle suburbs for 14 years in the US Congress, where he had a moderate record, including opposing Obamacare repeal efforts and Trump’s trade policies.

Reichert is looking for a further boost from several ballot measures, which include tearing up the state’s 7% tax on capital gains, repealing a new cap-and-trade program and making long-term care contributions optional.

The group behind the initiatives is funded by Brian Heywood, a money manager who moved to the Seattle area from California a decade ago to escape high taxes and regulation and is now pouring millions of dollars into Washington politics to reverse its left-ward drift.

Read More: He Fled California Taxes. He’s Fighting Them in Washington

There are some indications the political winds are shifting in Washington, with voters expressing concerns over crime and the state’s cost of living.

Seattle’s recent election of a more moderate city council signaled this trend, although the turnout was low. The legislature this month also acted by approving three initiatives from Heywood, keeping them off the ballot, including a rollback of a law limiting police pursuits and a confirmation that no income tax will be imposed.

The West Coast is witnessing a broader retreat on progressive policies over crime, drug use and homelessness. Oregon has reinstated penalties for drug offenses, citing a rise in addiction and overdose deaths, while San Francisco voters this month backed measures to expand policing surveillance powers and to mandate drug screenings for welfare recipients.

Reichert is leaning into his law enforcement background, citing concerns he said he hears from voters. While parts of his platform are Republican staples — lower taxes, more school choice — he also emphasizes bipartisan collaboration.

“If people are looking for somebody who claims to have all the answers, they’re not going find a candidate who has all the answers,” Reichert said.

T.M. Sell, a political economy professor at Highline College in Des Moines, Washington who wrote a book about the state’s politics, said the governor’s race will likely be between Ferguson and Reichert, with Democrats having the edge. However, the outcome may hinge on who can sway moderate voters.

“It’s more about what Ferguson does with his campaign to get out moderates and convince them that no, this is not time for a change,” Sell said.

That’s where the ballot measures come in. Heywood said his initiatives are aimed at appealing to a wider audience concerned with taxes and gas prices, not just to Republicans. Any electoral boost to Reichert would be a “happy coincidence,” he said.

--With assistance from Matt Day and Peter Robison.

(Updates with details on presidential primaries in 7th paragraph.)

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