The candidates each sought to sell themselves as the best friend of the 150 members of organized labor in the room and the most capable of defeating the one absent hopeful -- Republican John Koster
"Unfortunately he didn't have the courage to come," said independent Larry Ishmael. "He would make me look more liberal."
And Laura Ruderman, one of six Democrats in the race, urged the crowd to elect someone who can make sure "we never have to utter the words Congressman Koster."
Friday marked the campaign's first forum in Snohomish County that takes up roughly 40 percent of the district that underwent a radical change in its layout and political leanings through redistricting.
The 1st District has gone from a mostly urban district well-suited for a liberal Democrat to a blend of farms, suburbs and cities from the Canadian border to Medina and is now a toss-up for a Democratic or Republican candidate this year. A little more than half the population of 672,444 is new to the district.
In Snohomish County, the district passes through rural areas and includes the cities of Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Bothell, Monroe, Snohomish and Sultan.
Its partisan balance coupled with a vacant seat -- Democrat Jay Inslee resigned this month to run for governor -- has brought a surge of interest. Earlier 11, today, eight men and women are running.
Joining Kirkland's Ruderman and Redmond's Ishmael on Friday were Democratic candidates Darcy Burner of Carnation, Suzan DelBene of Medina, state Rep. Roger Goodman of Kirkland, state Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens and Darshan Rauniyar of Bothell.
Democrats agreed on many of the issues and spent much of the night looking for ways to distinguish themselves from one another.
In that regard, Hobbs stood out. He was the only candidate to endorse expanding the terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County to accommodate coal deliveries. He also was the only one to back privatization of some public services.
"Nobody has a monopoly on altruistic policy," said Hobbs, the most moderate of the Democratic candidates. "I can't promise I'm going to be with you 100 percent. I am willing to do what's right."
DelBene rebutted Hobbs, calling privatization "an attack on worker rights."
So, too, did Burner who spoke of the need to stop the "profitization" of America by corporations. Then, looking at the crowd, she vowed, "I will have your back."
All seven candidates supported letting tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year to expire at the end of 2012. Several candidates vowed to pursue reforms including eliminating tax breaks for multinational corporations.
"The tax code looks like a piece of Swiss cheese with very large loopholes," DelBene said.
All supported extending unemployment benefits for longer periods to those who cannot find a job and increasing federal spending on infrastructure.
They all backed getting rid of the cap on how much of one's wages can be taxed for Social Security. That amount is $106,800 and organized labor is pushing for a total scrapping of the cap.
On trade, most candidates said the U.S. should not sign a trade agreement with a country that does not provide protection for environmental, labor and human rights.
"We need to make sure the world rises to our environmental and labor standards," Goodman said.
At times the odd-man out Friday was Ishmael who is running as an independent after two unsuccessful tries for the House of Representatives as a Republican.
Congress is broken with Democratic and Republican lawmakers beholden to special interests and only an independent can truly represent the majority of this country, he said.
"I am not going to represent a party in Congress. I am going to represent you," he said
But Rauniyar brought the most passion to the conversation with repeated assertions that "Washington is not working" and pledging to push for fundamental change.
"The American Dream is fading away fast for the American families," he said.
Friday's forum was taped by TVW and will air next week. It also will be available online at www.tvw.org.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com
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