3 Republican hopefuls seeking seat in 1st Congressional District

EVERETT — Republican congressional candidate Pedro Celis might want to downplay his views on abortion and gay marriage as he campaigns to unseat Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene.

But social conservatives in his party — including the other two Republicans in the race — think it’s worth knowing.

On Thursday, GOP hopefuls Ed Moats and Robert Sutherland sought to bring Celis’ view into sharper focus when they all appeared in front of the Evergreen Republican Women’s Club.

Each had five minutes to talk about themselves and their campaign in the 1st Congressional District. Then they were asked questions, including if they were pro-life and pro-traditional-marriage — of a man and a woman.

Celis’ voice dropped to a near whisper as he said existing law gives women the right to choose, to which Sutherland responded by calling Celis “pro-choice.”

That prompted Celis to restate, much louder, that he’s personally pro-life but the law does protect a woman’s right to decide.

Sutherland and Moats said they are anti-abortion, and Moats cited his endorsement from the Human Life of Washington.

All three oppose same-sex marriage, though Celis said he long supported civil unions. Moats, in his reply, said he agreed with Pope Francis “that homosexual marriage is anthropologically regressive.”

On other topics, they each said Obamacare should be repealed and immigration reform should not be undertaken until the nation’s borders are secured against people crossing them illegally.

All three men are making their first run for political office. Thursday’s event offered a chance to distinguish themselves in front of party loyalists.

Celis is viewed by strategists for DelBene and the Democratic Party as the most likely to advance from the Aug. 5 primary.

He is backed by several state and national Republican Party organizations and raised $200,000 in the first quarter of this year. Moats and Sutherland have raised small sums to this point.

The district, which stretches from the King County suburb of Kirkland north to the Canadian border, is home to roughly even numbers of Democrats and Republicans. And there is a bloc of voters not strongly aligned with either party who are politically moderate and could determine the outcome.

A lesson of the 2012 election is that an openly pro-life, anti-gay-marriage candidate — which John Koster was when he ran against DelBene — didn’t appeal to those voters.

Abortion “is not the reason why I am running,” Celis told reporters after the forum. “Some people run for that reason. I don’t think this will be an issue. What matters to people is not that. It’s all the issues going on with the economy and many other things going on.”

And, when asked to expand on his gay marriage opposition, he said, “Marriage is something more for religion to decide. Polygamy, is it fine or not? It’s a religion thing.”

In his opening comments at the forum, Celis, a retired Microsoft engineer with a self-described “charming accent,” said his campaign is “an extension of what I have done in my career, which is to be a problem-solver, to be a consensus builder, to find difficult problems where you are required to understand how to move things forward.”

He said the issues that drive him are fiscal conservatism, limited government and free enterprise. On Obamacare, he said, “Experience shows me there is a better way to get your health care without taking away your choices.”

Moats, who worked for retired Snohomish County Councilman Koster, is a former lawyer and lobbyist for agricultural groups. He opened with a rousing recitation of his beliefs.

“I am a conservative Republican which means pro-property, pro-guns, pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-business, pro-military, pro-national defense, pro-oil, pro-coal, pro-agriculture, pro-energy independence,” he said, eliciting applause from several audience members.

Sutherland, a retired scientist, jabbed at his fellow Republicans when he talked about the choice voters have in the Aug. 5 primary.

“We have a rich Microsoft exec … a lawyer lobbyist. Then you have me, someone who has never run for office before,” he said. “I am middle class. I am working class. I am one of you.”

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

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