Hispanic Republican to challenge DelBene for Congress

SEATTLE — First-term Congresswoman Suzan DelBene is facing a challenge from a fellow ex-Microsoft employee in her re-election efforts this year.

Pedro Celis, who was an engineer at Microsoft, announced Thursday he’s running as a Republican to challenge DelBene for her 1st Congressional District seat. So far, Celis is the only candidate to publically announce a challenge to DelBene.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m the guy with the heavy accent,” he said in a video announcing his candidacy.

Celis was born in Mexico but immigrated to the United States as a college student. After teaching at a university, Celis worked as an engineer at Microsoft and helped form Plaza Bank, a bank that caters to Latino consumers.

Unlike the more conservative quarters of the Republican Party, Celis supports immigration reform. He was an outspoken supporter of a state measure that expanded financial aid for students without legal status in the country. Although most supporters called the measure the “Washington Dream Act,” Celis referred it as the “Real Hope Act,” which was the Republican-controlled Senate’s version of the bill.

Celis is also an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, saying in his video that President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law should be replaced. He didn’t mention specifics.

The 1st Congressional District spans from suburban high-tech areas in King County to more rural areas of Snohomish, Whatcom and Skagit counties. When it was drawn by the state’s redistricting commission, it was meant to be a competitive district.

DelBene won in 2012, defeating Snohomish County Council Member John Koster with 54 percent of the vote. Koster is a longtime social conservative who embraced the tea party movement and, like other national Republicans, made controversial comments about rape and abortion. DelBene spent $2.8 million of her own money on the campaign.

Sandeep Kaushik, DelBene’s spokesman, said Celis’ stand on immigration might be the only issue he’s not in “lockstep” with Republicans.

“We’re confident once the voters contrast Suzan’s track record with Pedro Celis’ extreme views, we think they’ll be strong supporters of Suzan,” he said.

The state Republican Party welcomed Celis’ bid.

“The people of the 1st Congressional District have been poorly served by Suzan DelBene, a strong supporter of Obamacare and other liberal policies which have led to great suffering – chronic unemployment, expanding poverty, economic stagnation, loss of health care, higher taxes and government overreach. No wonder Pedro’s announcement is being met by such excitement,” said state party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison.

While the 2014 elections should be tighter than the 2012 elections, University of Washington political science professor and pollster Matt Barreto said Republicans will have a hard time challenging DelBene in her district. He said Republicans need to find a candidate with a lot of money and pinpoint specific issues where DelBene has been problematic.

“So far, it seems that the House Republicans are the ones responsible for the lack of action — after all, they are the majority,” he said.

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Manuel Valdes can be reached at http://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes

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