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Koster drops from TV debate with Larsen in protest of Herald panelist

The candidate for Congress refused to participate if KCTS kept Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield on the panel.

  • Republican John Koster (left) and Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, candidates in the 2nd Congressional District.

    Republican John Koster (left) and Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, candidates in the 2nd Congressional District.

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
  • Republican John Koster (left) and Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, candidates in the 2nd Congressional District.

    Republican John Koster (left) and Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, candidates in the 2nd Congressional District.

Voters deciding between U.S Rep. Rick Larsen and Republican challenger John Koster will lose out on their only chance to see a televised debate between the candidates.
Koster said he would withdraw from Thursday's debate on KCTS-TV with Larsen, the incumbent Democrat. Koster said he objected to the public television station including Herald political reporter and columnist Jerry Cornfield as a panelist.
“We told KCTS if Jerry was in, we were out. That was KCTS' decision,” he said. “The campaign's feeling pretty strongly about it.”
Koster referred further questions to campaign manager Larry Stickney, who did not return a phone message Tuesday night.
Koster spokesman Matt Parker told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Cornfield has written stories and columns that paint his candidate as an “extremist.”
If Koster or his campaign advisers take issue with Cornfield's reporting, “it's news to me,” Herald Executive Editor Neal Pattison said. “If they had a problem, I hope they would have contacted me by now.”
Cornfield would have been a good fit for the KCTS debate, Pattison said. “We think that Jerry Cornfield was a completely logical choice for the panel,” he said. “He's the only statewide political reporter working for a newspaper in this district.”
KCTS released a statement saying the live program had been canceled after representatives from the Koster for Congress campaign informed the station their candidate would not participate without changes to the panel.
“We regret that voters in Washington's 2nd Congressional District will not have this opportunity to hear from the candidates with less than two weeks to go before the Nov. 2 general election,” the statement says.
KCTS host Enrique Cerna, who was to be the debate moderator, said he read Cornfield's stories and found them informative and straightforward. Cerna said Cornfield was a perfect fit for the panel because he's the main political writer at the biggest newspaper in the district. The station says it doesn't let campaigns influence whom it picks as panelists.
KCTS planned to air substitute coverage of the contest at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Koster and Larsen, who are both originally from Arlington, are waging a fierce battle for the district, which stretches from Mukilteo to the Canadian border. They also ran against each other in 2000, when Larsen won by a small margin. He has held the seat ever since.
This election cycle has been characterized by negative political ads on both sides. Koster, 58, of Arlington, is a Snohomish County councilman who is in his third term. He's a strong critic of the federal stimulus and federal health care overhaul that Larsen supported.
Larsen, 45, of Everett, has accused Koster of wanting to privatize Social Security, a charge Koster denies.
Larsen, who on Tuesday night was on his way to a League of Women Voters forum in Anacortes, said showing up for debates and forums is an essential part of the job. He noted that he faced a number of people at Everett Memorial Stadium last year who were upset about the Democrats' plan for a health care overhaul.
“You can't run for Congress by running from the voters,” Larsen said. “You have to show up in this job and you have to show up for the job interview.”
Thursday's debate was to have been moderated by Enrique Cerna, host of the political show “KCTS 9 Connects.” KPLU (88.5 FM) reporter Liam Moriarty also was to be a panelist.
Cornfield has covered politics and Washington state government for The Herald since 2004. He also writes The Petri Dish blog on Before coming to Washington state, he worked for television, radio stations and newspapers in Santa Barbara, Calif.
David Ammons, a spokesman for the Washington Secretary of State's office, said voters will lose an important source of information the debate would have provided. Before working for state government, Ammons was a longtime Associated Press reporter who was considered the dean of the Olympia press corps. That gave Ammons a chance to interact with both Cornfield and Koster.
“We certainly support as many debates and joint appearances as candidates are able to negotiate,” he said. “Not to second-guess Koster's opinion, but Jerry's highly regarded as a fair and accurate reporter in the capital press corps.”
Ammons said he never detected bias in Cornfield's writing. At the same time, he enjoyed a positive relationship with Koster when he served as a state representative.
“I don't recall him ever being a media critic or bashing on media for bias,” Ammons said.
The Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce was scheduled to host a debate between Koster and Larsen between 7 and 9 a.m. Friday at the Canoes Cabaret at the Tulalip Resort Casino.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,

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