Since 2005, Cathy Mcmorris Rodgers has owned the 5th congressional district of Washington State. A former State House member, Congresswoman Rodgers is fairly close to being a household name. Washington’s 5th congressional district spans a huge section of farm land, where the majority of the world’s wheat is produced. However, due to the spread of individuals, most of the voting power in the 5th district resides in Spokane Washington, the second largest city in the state. With a population of just over 300,000 for the county, Spokane doesn’t really measure up in size when compared to cities like New York or Chicago.

But its sway in congressional elections more than makes up for what it lacks in size.

The Spokane Region

Washington’s 5th district is a historically Red voting-block. The downtown area itself tends to vote blue, tapersing to purple, then red as you get further from city center. However, due to the nature of the Spokane region, downtown population density isn’t as high as you would think, with a significant portion of people in the county living outside the city limits. If you looked at historic voting data for Spokane Valley, you would see a majority of consistent, Republican voters, which is exactly why the results of the 2016 election were so surprising.

The 2016 Election

Joe Pooktas is a name that not many people are familiar with, and that’s no surprise.

While Pooktas has quite the impressive vita in business rehabilitation, he isn’t a household name in politics. Pooktas first ran to unseat Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the 2014 Congressional Election. In both 2014 and 2016, Pooktas garnered around 40% of the vote, with a slight increase in 2016. While that might not seem so stellar, for a historically Republican region where around 90% of the population is white, it’s actually pretty surprising.

Joe Pakootas is Native American. In a traditional-values, white Republican region, being a minority can restrict your ability to appear to many undecideds. Throughout 2016, the Pakootas campaign put a strong emphasis on in-person representation, getting their candidate out to meet people and have meaningful discussions with them about their issues and concerns.

In contrast, the Rodger’s campaign limited contact, seemingly avoiding direct contact with the candidate’s constituency. Despite this major difference, the strength of Rodger’s fundraising base as an incumbent was indisputable, and allowed for ad-buys the Pakootas campaign simply couldn’t afford.

That wasn’t the only problem. The Pakootas campaign was wrought with poor staffing and bad direction, leaving the candidate with an unclear message and causing the public to question who was running the campaign. Despite these hurdles, Pakootas secured a decent 40.4% of the vote, in an area where you wouldn’t really except a non-white candidate to make it past the primaries.

Where the Republican National Convention was one of party unity, the Democratic National Convention was one of fracture.

After Clinton’s nomination at the DNC, many Sanders supporters jumped ship, voting third party. This included congressional races, and likely impacted Pakootas fairly severely.

Despite this, there’s one uncomfortable fact that rests on at least a few minds in the region: had a white candidate run, all things equal, they probably would have won.

This has nothing to do with qualifications of Pakootas as a candidate, nor does it even have anything to do with the valley of difference in fundraising between the campaigns.

In an area where less than 30% of the population possesses a four-year college degree, where over 15% is in poverty, and where the per capita income is just over $26,000, it is no surprise that a minority candidate couldn’t cinch the win.

But there’s a much more important thing to consider.

Cathy McMorris Rodger’s claim to her seat is up for grabs in 2018, and with people like Lisa Brown (Spokane Chancellor of Washington State University) rumored among possible 2018 candidates, a close race is all but guaranteed.