Dogfight raging in 1st District


Herald Writer

Three Huskies want to represent south Snohomish County voters in the "other Washington."

They all may have worn the University of Washington’s colors at one time, but now two of them are snarling and snapping at each other over the airwaves, and the third is an unnoticed pup in the back of the doghouse.

Republican Dan McDonald and incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee are waging one of the most adversarial campaigns in the state this year as they vie for the 1st District seat in Congress. They’ve both spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads that focus more on destroying each other than building themselves up.

Without all that money, Libertarian Bruce Newman’s bark doesn’t have much bite, but he thinks both candidates are representative of what’s wrong with their respective parties, so he doesn’t plan to drop out to endorse either of them.

The fur is flying because the stakes are so high.

The 1st Congressional District, which runs south of Mukilteo in a squiggle around Seattle, is considered a swing district, which makes it "vitally important to the Republicans in their effort to maintain control of the House," GOP political consultant Brett Bader said.

With 42 percent of the vote in the September primary election, McDonald wasn’t as close behind Inslee’s heels as political watchers expected. He insists there’s nothing to worry about, because he’s right where Inslee was two years ago. Inslee got 43 percent in the primary and then went on to beat incumbent Republican Rick White.

"I think it’s wishful thinking on Dan McDonald’s part, but you can’t blame a politician for trying," Democratic consultant Cathy Allen said.

Inslee has worked hard at name recognition during his term. His office frequently calls reporters to offer his comments on various issues. He also made it a point to fly home nearly every weekend to maintain a visible presence, which he called one of the secrets to his success in a district that doesn’t favor incumbents.

With $1.6 million as of the end of September, Inslee had outraised McDonald by more than $400,000 and outspent him by more than $300,000.

And Inslee, an attorney, is a good speaker, something even his opponent praises him for. McDonald says his own sons tell him that as an engineer and economist, he’s "double boring."

Both men have degrees from the University of Washington, and both served on budget committees when they were in the Legislature together about 10 years ago. They were in different chambers then and had little to do with each other.

Now they can’t stop talking about each other.

McDonald, 56, appears more genial and mild-mannered than Inslee, 49, but both men have hammered each other during the campaign.

They signed a clean campaign pledge and have avoided personal attacks, but have sparred extensively over the issues.

McDonald said he doesn’t see that as bad.

"That’s the positive thing about campaigns," he said. "It’s the time when you’re held accountable for your votes."

McDonald sent out daily e-mails to reporters to "reveal the truth behind the Democrat incumbent’s real record," painting him as too liberal and tax-hungry.

"He’s a nice guy, he just votes wrong," McDonald said of Inslee.

Inslee offered a harsher picture of McDonald, saying he would let the gun industry run Congress, take away abortion rights and destroy the environment.

Inslee’s campaign talk is loaded with partisan comments. In debates and interviews, he challenges McDonald to endorse one party’s specific proposal over another for various issues such as prescription drug coverage and Social Security reforms. He said he’s following President Clinton’s advice to make the differences between the parties clear, because the Republicans are trying to fuzz the edges.

But McDonald doesn’t bite.

"What I’ve tried to do is to dwell on the guiding principles I’d take back to Washington, D.C., rather than bills that won’t even exist by the time I get there," he said.

Some consider that evasive action; McDonald insists it’s bipartisan behavior.

He said that from the very beginning of his 22-year public career, he has built a reputation in Olympia for working with both parties. When he first took office in Olympia in 1979, the House was evenly split, just as it was the past two years. McDonald worked with a leading Democrat in the Senate to get a controversial bill passed that increased state employees’ pension benefits without raising taxes.

Inslee points to his successful efforts in getting federal money for laid-off Boeing workers, protecting consumers’ financial privacy, legalizing electronic business transactions and getting the federal government to spend more money on parks.

Newman expects to spend less than $5,000 on his campaign, which he acknowledges to be "a long shot." The 27-year-old transportation engineer, originally from Alaska, did his graduate work at the University of Washington.

He said he’s been a Libertarian "pretty much as long as I knew what it was" because he supports personal and economic freedoms, which he believes the major parties are taking away.

"I wanted to give myself someone to vote for," he said, "rather than just to vote against."

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