John Koster faces headwinds not of his making

Those calm waters Republican John Koster sailed through in the primary are turning turbulent and threaten to bounce his latest expedition for Congress off course.

He’s navigating waves not of his own making or the creation of his Democratic opponent Suzan DelBene. They’re the result of tremors in the political cosmos caused by forces in his Grand Old Party.

First came U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s pick for vice president, then came Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s comments on rape. Separately and together those events put wind in the national sails of the Democratic Party and, in turn, generated a headwind for Republican candidates across the country.

A new poll conducted jointly by NBC and the Wall Street Journal gives a glimpse of the situation.

Fifty-four percent of those polled said Republican candidates for Congress were out of step with the public compared with 38 percent who called them mainstream, according to information NBC posted online Wednesday. When asked about Democratic congressional candidates, 48 percent deemed them out of step and 45 percent found them mainstream.

More worrisome for the GOP might be this figure: 29 percent of registered voters said they had “very negative” impressions of the Republican Party. NBC’s Michael O’Brien reported online that that is the second-highest figure in two decades of the survey.

Any headwind at this point could be problematic for Koster as he battles DelBene from the Canadian border to Medina in the 1st Congressional District.

Koster embraced Ryan’s selection as “a great choice.” And he blasted Akins’ comments as “reprehensible and bizarre.” That’s not going to be the end of it by any means.

Thanks to those gentlemen, subjects that have had a hand in Koster’s undoing in two previous bids for Congress are now front and center in the campaign.

Abortion is one. Koster, a social conservative, opposes abortion even in cases of incest and rape. That’s not the view of most Washington voters who long ago endorsed legal abortions. Koster’s not made abortion a central theme of his campaigns in 2000, 2010 or even this year.

But Akin’s comments put it in the spotlight, and you can bet DelBene, who is pro-abortion rights, will do all she can to keep it there. While she’s at it, she’s going to push other social issues onto the stage such as same-sex marriage that, not surprisingly, she supports and Koster opposes.

Ryan’s involvement is drawing attention to his ideas on reforming Medicare and Social Security by steering future enrollees of each toward the private sector for services.

Democrats are almost apoplectic at the opportunity this presents. Seniors are a key bloc of voters and right now more older voters reject than embrace any move toward privatization.

Koster endorses Ryan’s concept to slim down Medicare by giving out cash vouchers for individuals to spend on the private health care plan of their choosing. He also likes the idea of letting future enrollees in Social Security invest their money in whatever private fund they want rather than leaving it with the federal government.

Again, he’s not been shouting his positions from district rooftops. Koster’s association with privatizing Social Security cost him votes in his loss to Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen in 2010. Larsen hit him repeatedly — and Koster asserted unfairly — and it made a difference in the outcome. Maybe even the deciding factor.

Larsen has handed off his playbook to DelBene and she’s certain to use it to make the political waters tough for Koster to navigate again this fall.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com/thepetridish. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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