Arlington grad sure to win 2nd

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

One thing’s pretty certain in this year’s topsy-turvy election world: An Arlington High School graduate will be chosen to represent the northwestern corner of the country in Congress next year.

Republican John Koster, who is running against Democrat Rick Larsen for the 2nd District spot, said he was discussing that marvel recently with a hardware store owner in the small town of about 7,000 people.

"He said, ‘What’s more interesting than that is, you’re both from Arlington and you’re not related to each other,’ " Koster said with a laugh.

Both candidates are making much of their large, local families and their history in the area.

Larsen’s family has lived in the district since 1902, and he often jokes that with all his family members’ votes, he just needs a few more to wrap up the election. He grew up in Arlington but lives near Lake Stevens.

Koster was a third-generation dairy farmer in Arlington before he sold his farm four years ago. He still managed a dairy farm until a few months ago, when he quit to campaign full-time.

The candidates are competing for the state’s only open congressional seat. Incumbent Rep. Jack Metcalf, a Republican from Langley, is retiring to honor his commitment to term limits.

That’s given the race national prominence. It has consistently been listed among the top 10 to watch across the country.

With about $1.3 million in his campaign kitty, Larsen has a monetary advantage over Koster, who has raised less than $900,000.

Koster initially had a GOP challenger, which made it hard for him to raise money, and he never caught up.

In addition, since Larsen was widely expected to stomp Koster in the primary, and the National Republican Congressional Committee waited to see the September election results before making a commitment to help. The district was Democratic for three decades until Metcalf was elected in the 1994 Republican landslide. But Koster actually got about 3 percent more votes than Larsen in the primary.

"What we’ve lacked in dollars, we’ve made up for in grass roots, and I don’t think any amount of money can make up for personal contact," Koster said. "Eyeball to eyeball — I still think that’s the best way to campaign."

Koster figures he’s done more doorbelling than any congressional campaign, much to the chagrin of the staff in charge of his tight schedule, and put up about 7,000 campaign signs. Larsen also doorbells on weekends and has put up about 4,500 signs.

Larsen, 35, has been a Snohomish County councilman since 1998. He said highlights from his term include saving a piece of forest land near Marysville called Mother Nature’s Window from development and putting together a fiscally responsible county budget in the wake of funding cuts from Initiative 695.

"Since I’ve been on the county council, we’ve put 17 percent more cops on the street," he added.

Koster, 49, has been a state representative from the 39th Legislative District since 1995. He’s the author of the state’s "two strikes, you’re out" law for violent sex offenders, but said his most meaningful victories from his three terms are the personal ones, such as getting state funding for a new stoplight on Highway 9 and changing state law to allow farmers living on floodplains to rebuild their homes.

Metcalf made his mark in Congress with his work for veterans. A large number of veterans live in the district, which is also home to thousands of sailors and pilots based at Naval Station Everett and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Neither candidate has military experience, but both voiced strong support for national defense and promised to fight for higher salaries and better benefits for military personnel.

Koster campaigns on local control for education, saving Social Security with a lock box and partial privatization, modernizing Medicare by providing prescription drug coverage and encouraging choice through competition, and cutting taxes by eliminating the federal estate tax and the marriage penalty.

Larsen campaigns on paying down the national debt, using the interest savings to shore up Social Security, providing prescription drugs for all seniors through Medicare and increasing federal pipeline safety laws.

Larsen says Koster is too conservative to represent the moderate district. He points out that Koster has called abortion an "American holocaust."

In contrast, Larsen is supported by the National Abortion Rights Action League, and Gloria Steinem held a fund-raising breakfast for him in Seattle this week.

"There are those who like to say you’re too far right, but that’s just baloney," Koster countered. "They’re focused on one or two issues. I’ve worked on a broad spectrum of issues in the Legislature.

"I don’t have to run and hide from who I am," he added. "What you see is what you get."

Koster enjoys significant support from farmers in the district, which covers a lot of agricultural ground as it runs from Mukilteo to the Canadian border.

He might have some competition for the farm-friendly vote from Glen Johnson, the Natural Law Party candidate in the race.

Johnson is an extroverted, certified organic farmer who showed up for an interview in a baseball cap and muddy rubber boots, anxious to discuss his proposal to help reform Social Security by turning bankrupt dairy farms into retirement communities.

He brought his farming creativity to his campaign: He let a couple of acres on his farm grow over with weeds, used a tiller to carve "Glen Johnson for Congress!" in words 30 feet high, took a picture from above and turned it into about 30,000 campaign postcards.

He said most people think he’s a nut, but he’s enjoyed bringing a lighthearted touch to a campaign that has had more than its share of negativity between the two major-party candidates. He discussed some of his ideas for farming with Koster this week, hoping that if Koster wins, he’ll pursue the proposals in Congress.

Libertarian Stuart Andrews, a family physician in Bellingham, is campaigning on his party’s ideals of smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation. He’s only raised enough money to pay for his filing fee and hasn’t sent out any campaign literature but plans to start doorbelling this week.

He said he’s running for the office because "sometimes you have to do more than just bellyache."

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