From the moment of its birth last year to the day of its first primary, Washington's First Congressional District — shaped ideologically if not geographically like an hour glass — seemed headed for this: a general election pitting a conservative farmer from the north against a liberal high-tech exec from the south.
That would be Republican John Koster of Arlington and Democrat Susan DelBene of Medina.
Koster predictably headed a pack of five Democrats and an independent in Tuesday's voting, with 43.7 percent of the ballots — he was the only Republican entered. The big prize was the Democratic nomination, which was going to DelBene with 23.3 percent (as of shortly before 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7). Her closest competitor among five Democrats was Darcy Burner with 13 percent.
Koster was winning in the rural north, DelBene in the high-tech corridor in the south. Skirmishing was most active in the "neck" of the hour glass, suburban Snohomish County, expected by observers to be the ideological hinge of the district carved out last December by the state commission that drew new boundaries for Washington's nine congressional districts following the 2010 census.
Redistricting commissioners described the First as the most competitive of all 10 districts. But to make it competitive they lashed together two very different neighborhoods. In the north, rural sections of both Whatcom and Skagit counties and northern Snohomish are predictably Republican and have two of the most-conservative delegations in the Washington Legislature. In the south, the district includes Redmond and Kirkland and stetches into wealthy suburbs such as Medina — an area that likes Democrats, tends to vote liberal, and is very very much into high-tech businesses epitomized by Microsoft.
In early counting, Koster had 39 percent in King, 43 percent in Snohomish, 44 percent in Skagit, and 54 percent in Whatcom. DelBene had 23 percent in King, 26 percent in Skagit, 24 percent in Snohomish, and 22 percent in Whatcom. Koster also won the short term to replace Congressman Jay Inslee, who resigned his First District seat to run for governor; Koster polled 34.7 percent in that contest; DelBene had 25 percent.
The county-by-county results emphasize that Koster has problems in King County, which had about 40 percent of the votes counted at 9 p.m. and DelBene must pick up more ground as the district moves north. But in only one county — Whatcom — does Koster outpoll the Democratic crowd in the primary.
Obviously, Koster will pick up some votes from defeated Democrats, particularly from his Snohomish County neighbor, Steve Hobbs, who polled 11 percent in his home county but did poorly elsewhere. DelBene can expect to hold most of the other Democratic votes, for she is more centrist than Darcy Burner, her closest competitor, and the other two Democrats, Laura Ruderman and Darshan Rauniyar, fared poorly.
Koster is as rural as his neighbors in the north; DelBene as high-tech and educated as her neighbors in the south. She has personal wealth, which she used liberally in the primary; Koster figures to attract Republican funding from outside the state as the race figures to be one of those that could determine control of the U. S. House in 2013.
Koster clearly cannot match DelBene's personal wealth or connection to high-tech millionaires; his ability to attract big money for the fall campaign will rely on how seriously the national Republican leadership takes his chances. The Republican National Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to publicly commit, and none of the super-Pacs have weighed in, but the open seat has to be on the GOP's radar. Koster has done well in two previous races, both against Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash), in 2000 and 2010. He did not attract large party donations either time; the 2000 race was for an open seat. One item that should help him is that his primary race drew 703 individual contributors, trailing only Darcy Burner's 901 among candidates. DelBene drew money from 541 individuals.
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