"She was flattered," says Jill Strait, the 5th District congresswoman's press secretary. "It came as quite a surprise."
As pleasant as the surprise was, though, McMorris isn't letting the honorific get in the way of serious campaigning. As of the end of June, she's already raised just shy of a million dollars -- about half of that from individuals and half from political action committees (PACs) and other groups. And she plans to spend the bulk of this month stumping in the 5th District while Congress is in recess. Come September, she'll be back on the floor in D.C.; in October, she's back in the state to campaign full time.
Originally from Kettle Falls, where she worked at the family fruit stand, McMorris was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1994. Representing the 7th District, she became the leader of the Republican caucus -- the first woman to lead a House caucus, and the youngest since World War II, according to her re-election Web site. In 2004 she ran for Congress against Spokane businessman Don Barbieri, believed by many to be the best Democratic candidate in years. She routed him 60-40.
She could face an even more interesting competitor this year in Peter Goldmark, who has a similar agrarian background, and who could give her a run for her money when it comes to endorsements and contributions from rural-minded organizations. It's not looking too dire yet, though. McMorris, who won the endorsement of the Washington State Farm Bureau in 2004, has already netted almost $18,000 in contributions from groups like the Farm Credit Council PAC, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the Action Committee for Rural Electrification.
Strait says McMorris' campaign will, as with her 2004 push, focus on three areas: growing the economy, increasing access to quality, affordable health care and keeping the nation safe.
She points to the work McMorris has already done in the former field by passing the American Competitiveness Amendment to the College Access and Opportunity Act. The amendment, which rode on the coattails of the president's State of the Union vow to enhance America's leadership in science and technology, increases the number of teachers qualified to teach advanced placement courses and allows for the recruitment of highly qualified adjunct teachers in high schools. (For instance, Bill Gates could teach a course in computer science, Strait says.) The name of the game here is a trained, skilled workforce -- something McMorris believes is integral to growing the country's economy. She thinks making the president's tax cuts permanent wouldn't hurt, either.
McMorris will also campaign on border security. "We need to secure it from the smuggling of anything illegal, whether that's illegal immigrations or illegal drugs," says Strait. "Meth is a huge problem in Eastern Washington." McMorris has already met with border patrol officials to discuss the funds and resources they need to do their jobs.
And, judging by her glowing write-up in The Hill, she'll also be campaigning on her good looks. Whether the folks out in Elmer City will be won over by her fetching red leather jacket remains to be seen.