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Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 7:30 p.m.

1st District Congress candidates square off before primary

The final debate in the 1st Congressional District race sticks close to candidates' past messages.

REDMOND -- In the final debate before the primary, Democrat Darcy Burner on Wednesday accused fellow Democrat Suzan DelBene of using her personal wealth to try to buy a victory in the hotly-contested 1st Congressional District race.
Burner, the most liberal of the five Democratic candidates, took aim at DelBene, the wealthiest, saying her opponent "decided rather than raise the money to win the election, she would try to buy it."
DelBene, who's spent more than $1 million of her own money in pursuit of a top-two spot in the Aug. 7 election, responded afterward.
"People want to hear what the campaign is all about," she said.
Burner's jab came in the waning moments of the hour-long forum held in front of 215 people inside the Microsoft Conference Center.
Until then, the Democratic candidates -- Burner, DelBene, Steve Hobbs, Laura Ruderman and Darshan Rauniyar -- had held close to the narratives on which they've campaigned the past months.
Wednesday did mark the first time Republican John Koster, a Snohomish County councilman, joined them at a public event. A seventh candidate, independent Larry Ishmael, did not attend.
At stake is a two-year term representing an area that stretches from Redmond and Kirkland to the Canadian border. It passes through farms and towns in east Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties. Monroe, Sultan, Snohomish and Lake Stevens are among the cities in the district.
Koster, 60, of Arlington, is the only Republican in the race, and results of every public poll show him with a commanding lead. His Democratic opponents presume he will advance and they all but ignored him Wednesday.
He used the forum to lay out his desire to see less government, lower taxes, less regulation and greater reliance on people, not government programs to solve the nation's problem.
When asked if he would sign the anti-tax pledge administered by conservative powerhouse Grover Norquist, Koster said no.
"I have signed that in previous campaigns," he said. "I will not sign it this year."
He explained he wants fundamental tax reform and it might involve closing tax loopholes that some people might say go against the Norquist pledge.
His differences with Democrats became starkly clear in a "lightning round" in which candidates were asked to provide yes or no answers on hot button issues.
Democrats endorsed raising taxes on the wealthy, passing an initiative to legalize marijuana and allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry and Koster didn't. He and Hobbs supported charter schools while Burner, DelBene, Ruderman and Rauniyar did not.
Koster said afterward he didn't expect to draw fire from Democrats but did think they might exchange more verbal jabs amongst themselves.
"They were all pretty nice to each other," he said.
Among Democrats, Burner has led in every poll to date. However, survey results released last week showed her in a near tie with DelBene, a sign DelBene's spending on mailers and television ads is paying off.
During the forum, an audience member pointedly asked how much of her millions she would pour into this primary.
"I said I was willing to make an investment in this race," DelBene answered. "I think voters will decide based on the story and experience of candidates."
DelBene then pivoted to point out she's been the prime target of attack in mailers and television ads produced by an independent political committee funded by Ruderman's mother.
DelBene, 50, of Medina, is a former Microsoft executive and director of the state Department of Revenue. She said her time in the private and public sectors makes her most able to fight for the middle class and get the economy rolling.
Burner, 41, of Carnation, is a progressive who said the country's largest corporations and wealthiest individuals -- the "1 percent" -- have the country in a "'chokehold" and need to be confronted.
"You have a choice. You can send somebody who will fight for a level playing field for everyone or you can continue to support the 1 percent," she said.
Hobbs, 42, of Lake Stevens, is known for his leadership of the conservative Democratic coalition known as the Roadkill Caucus. He said he's bucked the powers of Olympia in his six years as a state senator by standing up to powerful labor unions and business interests to pass government reforms.
"I call myself a radical moderate, an extreme centrist," he said.
Hobbs, who grew up in Snohomish County, described himself as a father of three who earns $55,000 a year and drives a Ford Focus, the person his opponents say they want to help.
"Candidates talk about fighting for the middle class. I'm all for that. I'm one of them," he said.
Ruderman, 41, of Kirkland, is a former state lawmaker who served three terms in a Republican-leaning legislative district. She said winning those races proves she has crossover appeal needed to serve the district.
She said her focus will be on expanding access to affordable high-quality health care. She didn't address, nor did anyone ask, what she thought of her mother's role in the political committee that has attacked DelBene and Burner.
Rauniyar, 42, of Bothell, is making his first run for office. He's campaigning as a nonpolitician and vowed not to accept contributions from political committees so he won't be beholden to them if elected.
"You cannot elect the same politicians again and again and expect different results" in Congress, he said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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