In an online video announcing his campaign for Congress, Pedro Celis acknowledges the audibly unmistakable: “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m the guy with the heavy accent.”
Celis, a Republican from Redmond and native of Mexico, can’t hide it as he talks of why he wants to unseat U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., in the 1st Congressional District this November. DelBene is from neighboring Medina.
What might seem like an odd opening line is actually a crux of Celis’ campaign strategy: appeal to voters with his personal story, not his political agenda.
His tale is an engaging one. Celis arrived from Mexico with a bag of clothes, a box of books and an undergraduate degree in hand. In the U.S., he earned a doctorate in computer science and began a career that led him to Washington in 1998 to work for Microsoft.
He retired 18 months ago. At 55, the husband and father of four grown children said he wants to go to Congress to ensure the trail he took is preserved for others to travel.
“I have lived the American Dream,” said Celis, who became a U.S. citizen in the early 1990s. Voters “need to know who I am. My life story and the issues I care about all align with what this district is looking for.”
But why point out the accent?
“It’s a charming part of my story,” he said with a smile. “I’m not worried about the fact I’m an immigrant. I think it’s a positive, not a negative.”
State and national Republican Party leaders are banking on it and have coalesced behind his candidacy.
The National Republican Congressional Committee identified Celis as a “contender” in its Young Guns program, opening the way for loads of strategic advice and, potentially, money in coming months.
The Washington State Republican Party is unabashedly promoting Celis — and only him — on its Web page, though three other Republicans are on the ballot for the August primary.
“I’m rather surprised the state party has gone to the extent that it has to pick a favorite,” said Republican hopeful Ed Moats of Arlington.
Moats, a self-described “conservative blade of grass in the conservative grassroots,” figures party leaders don’t want views of conservative candidates injected into the campaign for this seat this cycle.
Caleb Heimlich, executive director of the state party, wouldn’t address that analysis directly.
In 2012, a conservative Republican, John Koster of Arlington, lost to DelBene, and there’s no sign the electorate in the district, which includes Medina and the Points communities up to the Canadian border, has greatly changed.
“Our goal is to defeat Suzan DelBene and elect a Republican to Congress in the 1st C.D.,” Heimlich wrote in an email. “Pedro has demonstrated through his campaign that the voters are behind him with their individual support and contributions.”
Democrats, too, expect Celis to be DelBene’s opponent this fall.
That’s why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee went on the offensive early to tell a different kind of story about Celis. It’s one in which the highlight is Celis’ ties with conservative candidates and organizations and what it says about his intentions, if elected.
“Pedro Celis has spent his career supporting politicians and organizations with far-right views on social issues that are too extreme for Washington state voters,” said Tyrone Gayle of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
That makes it loud and clear this campaign is under way.
Jerry Cornfield is a political reporter who covers Olympia for The Daily Herald in Everett, which is among the Washington state newspapers in the Sound Publishing group. He can be contacted at email@example.com.