The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats nominate zombie candidate, basically giving up a House race in Washington state

Democrats just essentially ceded a potentially competitive House race in Washington state to the Republicans — but not because they didn't try. Rather, because the candidate who made it through the primary isn't even running for Congress.

Former sportscaster Tony Ventrella will move on to the general election after coming in second to six-term GOP Rep. Dave Reichert in Washington's jungle primary on Tuesday. (Washington state has a primary system where the top-two vote-getters move onto the general election, regardless of party.)

Ventrella beat two other Democrats despite the fact he actually dropped out of the race in July. After two months of running for Congress, Ventrella announced that his plan to refuse "to make phone calls for money" failed to draw grassroots support.

Ventrella's decades-long career in sportscasting in the Seattle area apparently trumped news that he had dropped out. He'll now run a zombie campaign, telling Jim Brunner with the Seattle Times that he won't campaign, he won't raise money and he won't lift a finger to try to win.

In fact, if people want to donate anyway, he said, they should just give it to a local nonprofit group. That all but hands the race to Reichert, who has notched several impressive wins over his career when he has been in tight races with well-financed candidates and a more competitive district. (Reichert is the heavy favorite, having won first place by some 37 points, but it's not clear what Ventrella would do if he actually won the seat.)

This is a unique situation, of course: a crowded primary, candidates with low-name ID, a little-noticed dropout who happened to have more name ID than the others. But the result wasn't the best news for Democrats if they want to succeed in their ambitious goal to take back control of the House of Representatives.

Democrats have somewhere between very little and no room for error to net 30 seats to end Republicans' historically big majority. (The current breakdown is 246-188.) Right now, most nonpartisan political analysts project Democrats winning seven to 10 seats.

Why 54 may be the magic number House Democrats need to win back the majority

As I wrote in June, if they're going to take back the House, Democrats have to defy political expectations and win nearly every competitive seat that's in play — and maybe add some that aren't currently on the radar.

Washington's 8th Congressional District is probably somewhere on that list, albeit nowhere near the top 5 wave seats. President Obama won the district by 2 percent in 2012, and it's made up of politically moderate suburbs that Democrats hope will be turned off by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and vote Democratic down the line.

Republicans haven't had a perfect primary cycle either. In a congressional primary Tuesday for an open seat in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, two of their supported candidates lost to a third, more conservative one. The same thing happened to Republicans in June in New York's 22nd District, an open, potentially swingy seat in central New York that is on Democrats' watch-list to try to take back the majority.

But House Democratic operatives are still bullish about their chances to take back the House. They have identified 48 races where they hope Trump's unpopularity can push their candidates over the finish line. (Remember, they only need 30 to take back the majority.)

To do that, they're going to need everything to go right for them. And their room for error just got a tiny bit slimmer thanks to a botched primary and a zombie candidate.