In his 23 years in office, US Rep. Rick Larsen hasn’t had much reason to fear for his seat. A Republican hasn’t come within striking distance in Washington’s 2nd Congressional District since 2010, and a leftward challenger has never made it through the primary—that’s a worse record than WA02 libertarians. 

This year, Lynnwood City Council Member Josh Binda, who made history in 2021 as the youngest BIPOC elected official in the state of Washington, pledges to bring Larsen his most serious leftward challenge to date. But Binda’s not alone in the quest to bring new, progressive leadership to WA02. Jason Call, a Green party candidate who has run against Larsen twice before, announced a third challenge against Larsen last April.

Binda and Call share much of the same vision, so if progressives do not quickly decide who to coalesce around, Larsen may once again get the easy route to re-election, facing off against aspiring Freedom Caucus member Leif Johnson in November. 

Josh Binda Wants More Power for the Sake of His Constituents

Binda describes himself as a first-generation African American born to Liberian refugees in Providence, Rhode Island. In 2012, he moved to the district, which includes all of Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom counties, plus a narrow strip along the coast of western Snohomish county. 

Binda said he would be a better congressional representative for the district because he literally better represents its constituency. 

“I am my constituents. I have to worry about rent. I have to worry about medical bills. I have to worry about so many of the same issues facing the people in WA02, and Larsen just has to worry about pleasing his corporate donors,” Binda said in a phone interview with The Stranger. Larsen did not respond to my request for comment.

If he wins in November, Binda would be the youngest person ever elected to Congress in US history, beating Florida’s Rep. Maxwell Frost by a year. 

Binda came into his seat on the Lynnwood council from community organizing, particularly during the 2020 resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. He said the office hasn’t squashed the lefty in him yet. Still responsive to on-the-ground organizing, he uses his platform to criticize Israel’s ongoing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and signs every ceasefire resolution he can get his hands on. “I call it a ‘genocide’ because that’s what it is,” he said. 

Binda hopes to continue to push the Democratic party to the left in Congress. If elected, he would support Medicare for All, canceling student debt, packing the US Supreme Court, lowering military spending, prioritizing public transit over car infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, and playing defense when Republicans try to strip marginalized communities of their rights. 

As good as that may sound, freshman lawmakers don’t usually pass groundbreaking policy in their first term—if ever. To be fair, Larsen hasn’t passed a single bill this term either, according to the congressional bill tracker. And the 118th Congress as a whole earned the title of “most unproductive” in modern US history because lawmakers passed just 20 bills in the first year of the term. 

Regardless, Binda said he’s up for the challenge. He said he proved his effectiveness in his first term on council by winning almost $200,000 to hire two mental health clinicians at Lynnwood schools, funding the Parks Department’s request to combat vandalism, and securing $25,000 for reduced-cost swim lessons for children and seniors. 

He also said he’s “battle-tested” from working with a council that made no secret of its disdain for him, and from facing intense public scrutiny as a result. Last spring, right-wing media flamed him for violating campaign finance law, filming a promotional video in City Hall, and, most shockingly, posting a shirtless photo on Instagram. A small, likely sexually frustrated group of Lynnwood pearl-clutchers launched a recall campaign to unseat Binda, but they failed to turn in a single signature. 

Binda said that the people who supported him in his 2021 election probably could have seen something like the recall campaign coming. As a young, progressive Black man, right-wing, racist backlash unfairly follows him where he goes, he said. 

The controversy also sparked criticism of Binda’s perceived ego. Critics told The Stranger that his paid speaking tour and his newly published book make it seem as if he wants to be a celebrity, not a public servant. His quest to unseat a powerful congressman seems to some to be his latest exercise in vanity. 

Binda took issue with that line of criticism. He said everything he does, he does it for others. 

“I could have partied in college and lived my best life, but I ran for city council instead," Binda said.

He went on, arguing he could have just sat in City Hall, but instead he went into the community to inspire the youth. He could have kept his success to himself, but he wrote a book because he doesn't want to be one of the few young people of color in office, Binda said.

Similarly, Binda said he could stay at the Lynnwood City Council and slowly work up the ladder, which would probably be a safer bet for his relationship with the Democratic party and possibly better for his political future, but he doesn’t want to sit idly by while Larsen fails to be a strong, progressive leader. 

He said that people who concern themselves with the size of his ego just “hate to see a confident Black man.”

Jason Call Vows to Fight the Corporate Duopoly 

While Binda made headlines when he announced his candidacy at the end of January, Call quietly announced his 2024 campaign on Green Party Day last April. 

Call has lived in the Everett area since 1999. He describes himself as a husband, a father, a former public school math teacher, a musician, and a progressive activist with 30 years of experience under his belt. He also works as a campaign manager for Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein. While that job may seem like a distraction from his own campaign, Call said he hopes the position will “elevate his profile” and build much-needed name recognition.

Call tried to unseat Larsen in 2020, but his 14% of the vote share wasn’t enough to get through the primary. He took his second swing at the king in 2022, but he missed again. About 14.5% of voters supported Call in his second attempt, which sounds like an improvement, but it actually amounted to a loss of 2,500 votes between 2020 and 2022. He blames redistricting for making WA02 more conservative.

Still, Call thinks the third time's a charm. Unlike his previous attempts, he has now totally abandoned he Democratic party, running as a Green party candidate instead. He thinks that party distinction will resonate with voters who see too many similarities between Republicans and Democrats, particularly on the issue of genocide in Gaza. However, he may have already ridden that voting bloc as far as it will take him, considering only about 13% of Democrats in WA02’s most progressive county, Whatcom, voted for “uncommitted delegates” to show dissatisfaction with Biden in the recent presidential primary. 

In the last few years, less than 15% of WA02 voters have shown a willingness to give someone to Larsen’s left a shot. Sure, progressives could run stronger campaigns and find more converts, but with two strikingly similar platforms, it seems that this race ain’t big enough for the both of them—if they want the left to win, that is. 

Neither candidate called for the other to drop out. Call told The Stranger, “[Vote splitting is] not really a consideration for me. I'm gonna continue running my race because I think people need options that are not part of the corporate duopoly.”

Running as a Democrat, Binda is still a part of that “corporate duopoly,” according to Call. While Binda agreed with most of Call’s platform, Call is correct that Binda is less overtly critical of capitalism and seems less eager to slam the Democratic party the way he does. 

“I don’t think Binda will make a difference in Congress because the party itself is owned and controlled by corporate interests. And we see what's happened with other members of the Democratic Party, like AOC and Ilhan Omar and Jamaal Bowman, for example. They're fully lining up behind Joe Biden and not holding him to account for anything at all,” he said. 

Call didn’t exactly hype his ability to make meaningful change, though. He would be the only Green party member in Congress, so he admitted he would still be “stuck” caucusing with the Democrats. He said he would get “perhaps nothing” done in Congress, either. 

Leif Johnson Wants What Trump Wants

It may be too early to tell who the progressives will champion and to what degree they will work to get their lefty challenger elected. Call has raised more than $17,000 in his campaign, which is already almost a year old. He also has four endorsements from small, lefty organizations. 

Binda’s website shows no endorsements yet, and the Federal Election Committee does not report any funds for his campaign, seemingly because the FEC only shows money raised in 2023 so far. I asked Binda about his fundraising and I will update if he responds. 

The two candidates' efforts may also be thwarted by another Democrat challenger, Herbert Edwin Stickle. Stickle did not respond to The Stranger’s request for comment. 

But if history repeats itself and a Republican joins Larsen in the general election, then WA02 will likely see Johnson on the ballot.

Johnson describes himself as an “everyday American” living on Whidbey Island and commuting to Redmond four days per week for work. That’s a lot of time to listen to conservative radio, but Johnson said he sticks to audiobooks. 

Johnson is a staunch conservative, running as an America First PAC candidate and an aspiring member of the Freedom Caucus. In a phone interview with The Stranger, he presented the standard conservative agenda: Do whatever Trump wants with the southern border, increase military spending, but also cut like crazy everywhere else, and do not raise the federal minimum wage. Johnson said he’s most concerned about protecting “states’ rights,” which is Republican-speak for making sure that at least red states can promote hostility toward marginalized people. 

A fight between the incumbent and Johnson would make Larsen look too good. He would just have to look less right-wing than the “states’ rights” guy. If the left wants to replace Larsen with someone more progressive or at least make him sweat a little, then they’ll have to get behind either Binda and Call–unless another candidate hops in. The filing deadline ends in the middle of May.