With Larsen in lead, Democrats look to retake 2nd District

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

EVERETT – The Snohomish County Council may have to find someone to replace Rick Larsen.

The Democratic councilman appeared to be headed toward Washington, D.C., as early returns Tuesday showed that the Republican reign in the 2nd Congressional District may have been a six-year fluke after 32 years of Democratic rule.

Republican John Koster, a state representative and dairy farmer from Arlington, got about 3 percent more votes than Larsen in the September primary election. The close numbers, and because it was the state’s only open congressional seat, meant the race got a lot of attention in both Washingtons. It was consistently listed among the top 10 to watch across the country.

NBut it appears Koster’s slight lead deteriorated over the past seven weeks. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday night but mingled with a group of supporters on the fourth floor of the Hawthorn Inn in Arlington. Early in the evening, he told reporters he had no plans of conceding until more absentee ballots had been counted.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Jack Metcalf, R-Wash., was at Koster’s party and said Koster could still pull off the election. Metcalf pointed to his own belated victory in 1996, when he trailed on election night to Democrat Kevin Quigley by more than 2,000 votes. Absentee ballots, however, turned the loss into a victory later.

“A lot depends on rural Whatcom, rural Skagit and Island counties’ absentees,” Metcalf said.

Larsen said the initial returns heartened him, but he cautioned that there were still a lot of votes to tabulate in the multicounty district. The vast majority of the early counting came from Snohomish County, where Larsen fared best in the primary. Koster did better in the northern counties in September.

“We need to wait awhile,” Larsen said by telephone from his noisy election-watching party at the Monte Cristo Ballroom in Everett.

Larsen said the campaign waged a get-out-the-vote push all day Tuesday up to poll closing time. He expects the energy produced by a group of Western Washington University students in Bellingham will put him in a good position at the university and throughout Whatcom County.

The district is large, running from Mukilteo to the Canadian border, and including Island and San Juan counties.

Republicans have only held the office for 16 years since Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson was first elected from the district at the start of World War II. The last Republican to serve before Metcalf was Jack Westland, who lost his seat in 1964 to Democrat Lloyd Meeds. Metcalf grabbed the spot back for the party in the Republican sweep of 1994.

He’s retiring this year to honor his commitment to term limits.

For the first few months of his campaign, Koster had to contend with a well-known GOP challenger, former state Rep. Barry Sehlin of Oak Harbor. With two Republicans in the race, money was scarce, so Sehlin dropped out when the bottom fell out of his bank account in April. By that time, however, Larsen had already raked in half a million dollars. Koster never caught up.

Larsen spent more than $1.2 million on his campaign, compared with the more than $700,000 Koster spent, according to the most recent financial reports available.

Political action committees contributed a lot in this race: More than 40 percent of Larsen’s war chest came from PACs, along with nearly 30 percent of Koster’s bundle.

The Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League and numerous unions supported Larsen. Koster had an extensive grass-roots campaign.

It was a hard and bitter race with plenty of negative advertising financed in large part by the candidates’ parties.

“There was a lot of emotion in that race,” Larsen said. “This was a targeted seat and both parties certainly wanted to win it. In the end, the voters were able to sift through the noise and make their decision based on the issues.”

Both men are Arlington High School graduates.

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

Larsen’s family has lived in the district since 1902. He grew up in Arlington but currently lives near Lake Stevens.

Larsen, 35, has limited political experience. He has been a Snohomish County councilman since 1998. Koster, 49, served six years in the state Legislature.

Natural Law Party candidate Glen Johnson and Libertarian Stuart Andrews appeared to be having a minimal effect on the race.

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