Running with purpose: Linnea Noreen takes on McDermott

Water is wet. The sun rises from the east. Birds fly south in the winter. And Jim McDermott essentially runs unopposed in Washington state's 7th congressional District.

Linnea Noreen takes exception to the latter certainty. And it's not a rhetorical point of view. Noreen is running as an independent candidate against the longtime incumbent. Nor does she regard her candidacy as a quixotic quest. Along with everyone else, Noreen is well aware that she hasn't a chance of actually winning the Tuesday, Nov. 7, election. Her goal is not victory, but to draw attention to issues she feels are important and focus a spotlight on a congressional representative she feels has been ineffective despite his lengthy congressional tenure.

Such an approach is reality based. McDermott, a liberal Democrat, easily wins reelection against token opposition. McDermott won with a shade under 75 percent of the vote in 2002. His total was more than 80 percent in 2004.

Noreen, 29, grew up on Capitol Hill in the house where her parents still live. She moved back after attending college on the East Coast and working in Washington, D.C. She graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts with a degree in political science, then worked as a consultant for Arthur Anderson, a job that somewhat coincidentally found her working in Seattle much of the time.

Her turn toward politics and community involvement came during the 2000 election cycle. She became involved in Al Gore's presidential campaign, eventually taking a paid position at about 25 percent of her previous salary.

"The campaign was a whirlwind. I came to learn how politics, and especially the two-party system, disenfranchises a large percentage of the population," she said.

She also learned that Seattle was really and truly home.

"Because this city is my home, my future, I knew I had to stay here and be part of the process and part of the solutions," she said.

After the election, she began working with community nonprofit organizations. Noreen took a job with Leadership Tomorrow, then at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. She was the director of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce for more than a year before taking a position with the Seattle YMCA. That job involved directing programs aimed at promoting community involvement, as well as getting young adults involved in local boards and commissions. That position evolved into one at Seattle Works, a job she had to resign to run for Congress.

"Working with nonprofits gave me an awareness that people care deeply about government but almost universally think that government can't or won't help. People think the system is broken. The two-party system excludes a huge number of people from the political process. People aren't apathetic, but they feel hopeless," she said.

Noreen said she wants to challenge a status quo that sees the overwhelming majority of congressional incumbents winning reelection. She's running to make the point that incumbents are not entitled to their seat.

"It's not the sign of a healthy democracy when most congressional candidates so easily win reelection," she said.

Choosing to run against McDermott was not a random or accidental choice. McDermott, by now a Seattle institution, is often lauded for his tough rhetoric against the war in Iraq and the Bush administration, or vilified by conservatives. But he has, she said, little to show for his 17 years in congress.

"What has he really done in all his time in D.C?" she asked. "He fights a lot of battles, which he always loses. He hasn't succeeded in providing better health care. Transportation here isn't working. He opposes the war, sure, but he's easily ignored by the Bush administration. He hasn't shown he's able to work with others to really get anything done. This district is not the better for his having held the seat."

Perhaps surprisingly, Noreen agrees with virtually all of McDermott's positions. She takes strong positions on health care and education in particular.

"He talks a great talk. But what has he really done to advance the values we believe in?" she said. "He's in a safe district and he could be on the forefront of governmental reform. He could take a leadership role. He isn't doing it."

Noreen has raised roughly $65,000 for her campaign, roughly half generated from taking a mortgage on her Capitol Hill condominium. The total is in stark contrast to McDermott, who has raised roughly $800,000 for a race he'll win easily.

Such a small war chest has placed serious limitations on the kind of campaign she's been able to run. She had a small paid staff during the signature-gathering build up to getting on the ballot, staff she could not retain after those efforts proved successful. Money has gone to yard signs, buttons - the usual campaign materials. But there wasn't enough money for mailings or phone banks. She's done a lot of doorbelling and made appearances at candidate events whenever possible, a challenge for an independent candidate when independents are often not given a seat at the table.

In an unusual approach, she paid for a 30-minute television program that was aired earlier this week. An infomercial of sorts, the program is a take-off of "The Daily Show." Noreen was interviewed for 10 minutes during the program. The show, broadcast on KONG, will be repeated at 12:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 3.

Noreen is sanguine about her upcoming defeat. She notes, without evident frustration, that had she been running as a Democrat against a Republican, her candidacy would have generated a great deal more attention. As an example, she mentions the Eastside's 8th District, where Democrat Darcy Burner is in a close race against incumbent Dave Reichert. Noreen's community service resumé, she points out, is significantly stronger than Burner's.

As to the risks of not just running but making a full-time effort, Noreen has no regrets. She quit her job and put her home at risk. She'll need to find a job in short order after the election. But she considers such sacrifices a small price to pay.

"I'm not really risking so much. People around the world often risk their lives for democracy. I'm able to take this small chance because I think it's important," she said.

Her run is also meant to signal other young adults to get involved with public service.

Linnea Noreen has no regrets.

"Government and politics in America can be better," she said. "When young people step up we can make things change. We can't keep waiting for the parties to come up with solutions when it's clear they aren't going to. I'm not going to win, but it doesn't mean it wasn't worth running."

Linnea Noreen's Web site is Congressman Jim McDermott's election Web site is

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at or 461-1308.[[In-content Ad]]