Republican Jaime Herrera and Democrat Denny Heck will advance to the November general election in the contest for Southwest Washington's 3rd District Congressional seat, and Tuesday's initial primary results show the race will be a humdinger.

Heck, who had won virtually every major Democratic endorsement, came out on top in the top-two primary with a nearly 5,000-vote lead over Herrera. The pair each collected double the votes of their nearest competitor, Republican David Hedrick, who was among the four others vying for the seat.

Heck, an Olympia entrepreneur who represented Clark County's 17th district in the 1970s and 1980s, managed to edge out Herrera by 840 votes in that county, which is Herrera's home base. Tuesday night, Heck said he was feeling "pretty spectacular."

Herrera, a Camas resident and state representative for the 18th Legislative District, said she was "thrilled" by the initial results.

"Voters have spoken. They're tired of the federal government spending hand over fist," she said Tuesday night. "It's time to have someone who's willing to put away the government's credit cards."

This is the first time in 12 years the 3rd District seat has been up for grabs since Democrat Brian Baird claimed it in November 1998. Baird announced last December that six terms were enough, setting off a stampede of hopefuls and grabbing the attention of national Democratic and Republican party officials.

Democrats have controlled the seat for most of the last 50 years. However, Republican candidates outpolled Democratic candidates Tuesday's primary, getting 53 percent of the vote.

Cowlitz County, which has the third most registered voters in the 3rd District, in particular has been a swing district. For those reasons, and because neither Heck nor Herrera has the advantage of being a county native, Cowlitz County could become the race's key battleground. Tuesday, Herrera led among Cowlitz County voters by a slim 140 vote margin.

Both candidates said they plan to continue to focus attention here.

"I've said from day one, Cowlitz County is critical, no question about it," Heck said. "I'm bringing my sleeping bag."

Herrera said she will continue to hammer the same message of reining in wasteful government spending, creating jobs and loosening barriers that inhibit small businesses.

Heck said his singular campaign issue is putting people back to work and getting the economy rolling. Heck, who has started several businesses, wants to talk about why Congress isn't making job creation and economic development a priority.

"I know what it takes to conceive of an idea, make it successful in the marketplace and put people to work in the process. I think I have a pretty good grasp of what Congress should be doing and isn't doing to cause that to happen," he said.

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