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The strange new world of the 1st Congressional District

Republican John Koster has an easy road to his party's nomination for a congressional seat while five Democrats stage a brawl. It's wild even if Dennis Kucinich doesn't land here.

Republican candidate John Koster is well known in the new 1st Congressional District, and he's working to assure name recognition.

Republican candidate John Koster is well known in the new 1st Congressional District, and he's working to assure name recognition. Floyd McKay

Click to enlarge. Final redistricting plan for Washington state's congressional districts.

Click to enlarge. Final redistricting plan for Washington state's congressional districts.

Kucinich Kraziness descended on us again this week, as the indefatigable Ohio congressman harkened once more to the Horace Greeley challenge to "Go West, Young Man." Kucinich, no longer young and soon to be no longer a congressman, is eyeing Washington's three open Congressional seats and wondering which one needs him the most.

Earth to Kucinich: The district that needs you the least is District 1, which has enough challenges of its own, particularly among Democrats. From a mob scene of up to eight (who's counting?) in the euphoria of an open seat, it looks as if the Demo flash mob is down to five, at least until filing is completed on May 18.

Republicans, meanwhile, seem to have cleared the field for John Koster, a dependable if not flashy conservative who nearly defeated Congressman Rick Larsen in 2010 and should be able to run very well in the northern half of a competitive district that is — strictly in political terms — a bit like an hourglass. That is, most of the Republicans are in the north, with a narrow section of up-for-grabs voters in the middle and a lot of Democrats in the southern portion of the district.

Kucinich, if he were to be foolish enough to enter, could conceivably split what looks like an evenly divided Democratic field and, relying on name familiarity, get the Democratic nomination. But he would be demolished in November; it's hard to imagine him getting 20 percent of the vote north of Marysville.

District 1 grew out of the state Redistricting Commission's work to create a tenth congressional district in Washington, thanks to population growth. Four partisans appointed by legislative leaders strived mightily to create new districts and District 1 was drafted by Republican Slade Gorton and Democrat Tim Ceis. Gorton, who has been the GOP's go-to guy on redistricting for decades, declared, "It may be the most evenly divided congressional district in the United States of America."

The district essentially takes the eastern, rural portion of Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom counties from the old District 2 represented by Larsen and puts them in the new District 1, bringing in northern King County with its high-tech suburbs and Democratic voters — and candidates.

As a result, three of the five surviving Democrat candidates (after dropouts along the way) are former Microsoft employees; the fourth, state Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, is in that "up for grabs zone: and is the lone conservative Democrat running. The "Microsoftie" candidates are Darcy Burner and Suzan DelBene, both past candidates against Congressman Dave Reichert, and Laura Ruderman, a former legislator. The fifth Democrat, untested politically, is Darshan Rauniyar, a Nepal-born high-tech entrepreneur and Snohomish County resident.

Republicans — the 2012 presidential primary notwithstanding — are often more disciplined in keeping primaries manageable, and District 1 saw Koster filing early and two would-be challengers dropping by the wayside. Looking at past voting in what is now District 1, Koster will be formidable. In 2010 he took 49 percent from Larsen of the overall district and carried Snohomish County, home base of both men. In 2012, the traditional Democratic stronghold of Everett stays in Larsen's district; Koster gets the Republican side of the county.

He also gets the Republican side of Whatcom and Skagit, with the addition of Mount Vernon, which normally goes Democratic. All the other Democratic strongholds of the old District 2 (which Koster nearly won in 2010) remain in District 2; Koster need not worry about liberals in Bellingham, San Juan County, Anacortes, and Everett.

Rural parts of northwest Washington have chafed at being represented by a Democrat for many years, and figure to unite behind Koster, who is well known for his years on the Snohomish County Council and his runs against Larsen (2000 and 2010). Koster is also the king of freeway signs — posting large signs in the right-of-way between I-5 and parallel state roads.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Just curious--have Delbene or Burner voted lately? I remember that neither had even voted for Congress before deciding that it would be "fun" to be in Congress?

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Not that I would defend either one, but I don't like red herrings.

Both voted in Nov 2011.

Good point though, and I hope you are not related to Roger.

Geezer

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Floyd -- this is a very good piece, and an excellent overview of the race. I am subscriber of both the Cook Report and the Rothenberg Report, and this piece is as thorough and balanced as anything that I get from both of those publications.

cfw82267

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Good piece.

I live in the 1st CD (both in its current and redistricted forms.) I have been undecided so far, but I now think Laura Ruderman is the best candidate.

The Republicans nationally and in the state are captured by the far right, so Koster must be defeated. Among the Democrats, only two have elected experience--Ruderman and Hobbs. DelBene had a brief stint as an appointed official, and the other two Democrats are inexperienced. I like Darcy Burner but she's also too liberal for the district, on top of her inexperience.

I think both Ruderman and Hobbs could win against Koster. But Ruderman not only has more fundraising acumen, she's better on policy. As a member of the Roadkill Caucus, Hobbs has helped to prevent the Democrats from protecting the public from unnecessarily deep budget cuts. Ruderman's background also makes her less likely to be dismissed as an out-of-touch Microsoftie, because she was a low-level manager before her political career, and so her legislative career overshadows her prior professional career. I think she can win those up for grab votes in the district, just like Hobbs, but she'd be a much better representative once elected.

cascadian

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