In the 1st Congressional District, the combination of an open seat, new boundaries and a bevy of talented candidates is making for one of the year’s most unpredictable elections.
Seven candidates are competing for a two-year term in what former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton deemed may be “the most evenly divided congressional district in the United States of America.”
The two who garner the most votes in the Aug. 7 primary will square off in November. The eventual winner will succeed Democrat Jay Inslee, who decided to run for governor rather than seek re-election.
It will no longer be an urban crescent linking Kitsap County, Seattle and south Snohomish County where Democrat voters are more bountiful.
The district’s new southern border is in King County and the hometowns of Costco (Kirkland), Microsoft (Redmond) and Bill Gates (Medina). From there, it travels north to Canada through farms and suburbs of Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties where Republicans are plentiful. A little more than half the population of 672,444 is new to the district.
In Snohomish County, it takes in the cities of Arlington, Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Bothell, Monroe, Snohomish and Sultan.
The race features one Republican, John Koster of Arlington, and one independent, Larry Ishmael of Redmond.
The other five are Democrats: Darcy Burner of Carnation; Suzan DelBene of Medina; Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens; Darshan Rauniyar of Bothell; and Laura Ruderman of Kirkland.
To a person, the Democratic candidates presume Koster will secure one of the top two spots in the primary because he’s the lone Republican and is a known quantity to GOP voters.
As a result, the story line of the primary is which of the quintet of Democrats will be taking on Koster.
Two early public opinion polls showed Burner with a double-digit lead on the rest of the field though she trailed Koster in a head-to-head matchup. But her opponents contend those surveys were conducted before any of their campaigns kicked into gear.
For example, DelBene has been flexing her campaign’s financial muscle by airing television commercials and sending mailers to voters throughout the district.
She’s also become the first candidate targeted for attack. Progress for Washington, a political action committee formed in June, has spent roughly $64,000 on three mailers critical of DelBene’s record in the private sector. They began arriving in mailboxes July 5.
The PAC’s founder, Jeremy Pemble of Kirkland, has donated $1,500 to Ruderman’s campaign. Not surprisingly, DelBene supporters wonder aloud whether Ruderman had a hand in the effort.
“We had nothing to do with it and we don’t know anything,” Ruderman’s campaign manager Liz Berry said. “We found out about this the same time that everyone else did — when Laura opened her mailbox Thursday (July 5) afternoon.”
Voters can expect jostling among the Democrats to pick up exponentially. Ballots are going out Thursday and Friday, which will fuel a marked increase in television ads, mailers and, maybe, sparks.
Koster, 60, is under way on his third campaign for Congress.
The one-time dairy owner first tried in 2000, losing narrowly to Democrat Rick Larsen, then a Snohomish County councilman. Larsen, now a five-term incumbent, won their rematch in 2010.
Koster says in this campaign, like the last, the pressing issues for the country are the need for jobs and a stronger economy. His solutions lie in reducing taxes and curbing government interference in the private sector.
“I do believe that the cure for what ails us can be found in the free market and free enterprise system,” he wrote in response to a questionnaire sent to candidates by The Herald Editorial Board.
Koster, a former state lawmaker, is in his third term on the Snohomish County Council. His politics are conservative; he opposes tax hikes and government regulation as well as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Two years ago, he called for repealing the federal health care law and the recent Supreme Court ruling hasn’t changed his view.
“Obama-Care is a looming disaster for America,” he wrote in the questionnaire. “After the disappointing Supreme Court decision, we must now redouble our political efforts to force a full repeal of ‘Obama-Care’ and instead, look to the free-market for health care solutions.”
Burner, 41, is making her third run for Congress. She lost to Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., in 2006 and 2008 in the 8th Congressional District.
Following the 2008 race, she became executive director of ProgressiveCongress.org in Washington, D.C., where she focused on strengthening ties between activists and intellectuals on the political left with like-minded members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
A theme of her campaign is that well-heeled special interests control Congress and until their grip is broken, the problems facing the nation cannot be solved.
“If we want progress on the economy, health care and education, we first have to fix our broken Congress,” she said. “It’s time we restored government of, by, and for the people — not governments of, bought and paid for by big corporations and the wealthy.”
DelBene, 50, ran for Congress in 2010 and lost to Reichert.
She is the past director of the state Department of Revenue and a former vice president at Microsoft. She helped launched drugstore.com and later ran the software firm, Nimble Technology. DelBene says her career in the private and public sectors makes her the most prepared for dealing with the array of issues facing Congress.
A multi-millionaire, she self-financed much of her 2010 run and has put $300,000 into this bid in the spring.
While her Democrat opponents needle her about the wealth, she’s pledged to “stand up for the middle class.”
“This is personal for me,” she said, saying her family struggled and relied on unemployment checks when her dad lost his job. “Thanks to financial aid, student loans and hard work, I was able to attend college, get a good education and build a successful career.”
Hobbs, 42, is in his second term in the state Senate where he’s viewed as a moderate Democrat willing to team with Republicans on some matters.
An Army veteran who served in Iraq, he boasts of his founding role of the centrist coalition of Democrats known as the “Roadkill Caucus” that figured prominently in passage of several government reform measures over the objection of liberals in his caucus and union members in his district.
Hobbs said his willingness to “put country before party” and work in the same manner with Republicans in Congress makes him the best fit for the district..
He’s the only Democrat supporting charter schools and constructing a terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County to accommodate coal deliveries.
But Hobbs is with the others in support of legalizing same-sex marriage and use of marijuana for adults.
“I never stray away from the party’s values,” he said.
Rauniyar, 42, a native of Nepal, is making his first run for political office. He is a businessman who co-founded Flash Ventures, a firm which sells memory drives.
Rauniyar said he chose to seek a seat in Congress because that’s where the nation’s challenges, such as ensuring access to health care and lowering unemployment, must be dealt with. He said as an “outsider” and “non-professional” candidate he brings a fresh perspective the others lack.
“I am the only candidate who refuses to take PAC money,” he said. “That leaves me free to do what is in the best interest of our district and the country not special interest groups. I want voters to look at me as the unique candidate.”
He said he’s proven that with the issue of Cherry Point on which he’s the only candidate to unequivocally oppose the project.
Ruderman, 41, served three terms in the state House of Representatives before making an unsuccessful run for secretary of state in 2004.
She is a former program manager at Microsoft and is owner of a political consulting firm. She said getting America back to work is the most important issue in the campaign. Investing in roads, bridges and schools is one means of doing that, she said.
She won her seat in the Legislature in 1998 in a Republican district by being a tireless fundraiser and doorbell ringer and is counting on those traits paying off again. She’s said if elected, she will return 25 calls from constituents each day.
“My experience has shown me that folks have a lot more faith in our system when they don’t think they are just screaming into a black hole with no one listening,” she wrote in a response to the questionnaire from The Herald editorial board.
Ishmael, 59, of Kirkland, is making his third bid for Congress. Running as a Republican, he lost to Inslee in 2006 and 2008 in what’s soon to become the old 1st District.
Ishmael is an associate professor of economics at Northwest University in Kirkland. He said fixing the economy and spurring job growth are his primary concerns.
He’s proposing to reduce business taxes and shift to a 17 percent flat tax on personal income as a means of igniting investment.
He said he chose to run as an independent this time because the only way to end the partisanship in and dysfunction of Congress is electing people not beholden to the political parties.
“To continue doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity,” he said. “By continuing to elect Republicans or Democrats, we are doing just that. The only way to change that is to elect some independents who work to reach a consensus.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com
Experience: She is a former executive director of ProgressiveCongress.org and a former Microsoft manager. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006 and 2008.
Experience: She is the past director of the state Department of Revenue and a former Microsoft vice president. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010.
Residence: Lake Stevens
Experience: He is in his second term as state senator. A U.S. Army veteran, he now serves in the Washington Army National Guard.
Experience: He is an associate professor of economics at Northwest University in Kirkland. He was an elected member of the Issaquah School Board and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006 and 2008
Experience: He is in his third and final term on the Snohomish County Council and served as a state representative. He formerly owned and operated a dairy. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2000 and 2010.
Experience: He is a businessman who co-founded a software company, Flash Ventures. This is his first run for political office.
Experience: She is a fundraising consultant and former state representative. She worked as a Microsoft program manager and chief development officer at Seattle Mental Health. She ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2004.