By Marquise Allen
Gerardo Ayala hasn't been able to afford health insurance for the last five years.
The co-owner of Ayala Bros. Furniture Co. in downtown Centralia is weathering the rough-and-tumble economy, hoping new home sells increase.
Democrat Denny Heck listened to Ayala's plight and asked to see if there was anything he could do to help if elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District and replace outgoing U.S. Congressman Brian Baird.
"Every time you talk to someone in business you learn something new," Heck said.
Heck, an Olympia businessman, toured downtown Centralia businesses for a few hours Wednesday afternoon. Starting at Santa Lucia Coffee, Heck walked down to home decor shop Fruffles, poking his head into several businesses along the way.
His visit served as an attempt to better understand his constituents if elected in November. Heck was took the most votes in the August primary election two weeks ago, edging out State Rep. Jaime Herrera, 31 percent to 27 percent in a five-way race.
However, SurveyUSA conducted a two-day poll for KING 5 in Seattle early last week that showed Herrera had a 13-point lead over Heck, 54 percent to 41 percent in a head-to-head matchup.
Lewis County Democrat Chair Bob Schroeter said he wasn't too concerned about the poll, saying the national polling company tended to lean more conservative in its polls.
"This is going to be a close race," Schroeter said. "But I think we have a very good chance to win the district. We have a candidate who is moderate and appeals to independents. ...He's someone who can hit the ground running."
Before the former state House majority leader started his business tour, he stopped by the Lewis County PUD in Chehalis to learn more about proposals for upper-Chehalis River water retention.
"I understand the nuances," Heck said. "But my position is affirmed. We need to take a comprehensive look at the problem."
Heck has said in the past that he would push for an "aggressive" flooding study that would take everything in account. He hasn't thrown his support completely behind building two earthen dams along the Chehalis River, but said it could be a piece of the solution. Until a study has been completed, he's said he's unsure of what solution may work the best.
But Heck said he was somewhat skeptical of the order in which the problems were being looked at presently, specifically starting with the construction of levees before anything else.
"I'm not yet convinced if all you did was levees you might make the issue downstream worse," he said. "I think we ought to accelerate the comprehensive look."