Political ground zero

Snohomish County-area candidates could influence the entire country

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

EVERETT — A veritable Who’s Who of national media has been crawling through Snohomish County lately.

The big draw?

Our high-profile political candidates.

Not only is the county home to a U.S. Senate candidate, it also has two of the hottest congressional races in the country.

And that’s been enough for editors and producers thousands of miles away to dispatch their reporters from Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago to Edmonds, Everett and Stanwood.

"Right after we won the primary, we began to be bombarded with calls from the national press," said Ellis Conklin, press secretary for Maria Cantwell.

Cantwell has lived in Snohomish County since 1983, and was a Democratic representative for the southern part of the county in the state Legislature and in the U.S. House. After losing her congressional re-election bid in 1994, she made millions as an executive at RealNetworks. Now she’s running for Republican U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton’s spot.

She lives in Edmonds, and her campaign headquarters are in Mountlake Terrace.

"It’s interesting, because she is the first of the dotcom millionaires who seems to really have a chance of becoming a member of Congress," said Linda Douglass, the Capitol Hill correspondent for ABC News. Douglass spent the day with Cantwell in Everett on Wednesday for a story scheduled to air Monday.

Ron Brownstein, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, also followed Cantwell around as she got a tour of the Everett Community College’s worker retraining program.

The race has been featured on NBC’s "Today" show and the CBS News, and in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The San Jose Mercury News and other newspapers. CNN is coming out to the county next week, along with David Broder of The Washington Post.

Conklin said even England’s BBC had contacted the campaign. A small article about the race has appeared in The International Herald Tribune in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

But the Senate candidates aren’t getting all the attention.

Two Arlington men have seen their names splashed across the country as well, in many of the same publications.

Republican John Koster and Democrat Rick Larsen are in a remarkably tight race for retiring Rep. Jack Metcalf’s 2nd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House, which runs from Mukilteo to the Canadian border.

"It’s an open seat, and it’s clearly a seat that both parties feel they have a chance of winning," said New York Times reporter Sam Verhovek, who has written articles about the Senate race and the 1st and 2nd Congressional districts.

The 1st District includes a corner of southwestern Snohomish County and runs south in a squiggle around Seattle. State Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, is challenging incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee.

The districts are top priorities for both national parties in the fight for control of the House, where there are currently 222 Republicans and 210 Democrats.

Tim Vandehei from The Wall Street Journal spent Wednesday following Koster around as he spoke at various events, including a candidate forum in Stanwood.

"I think a lot of people care a lot about what will happen in this race," Vandehei said. "Plus, it’s a good excuse to come to Washington."

Vandehei said the 2nd District race is one of about a dozen across the country that Wall Street Journal reporters are watching closely. In addition, Washington and California are the two states on which they’ll be keeping the closest eye come election night.

Of course, newspaper readers in Chicago and New York can’t vote here, so Conklin said he tries to make reporters from local news outlets a priority for Cantwell’s time. But he also accommodates the national media.

"We don’t want to turn them down," he said. "They’ve come a long way. And if she becomes a U.S. senator, she will be a national figure, so she needs to talk to the national press.

"We’ve come a long way since I was talking to reporters at smaller publications, and they’d say, ‘Cantwell, that name’s familiar. Isn’t she running for something?’ "

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