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Originally published Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 7:24 PM

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Koster pulls out of debate, objects to panelist

Republican John Koster has pulled out of a televised live debate with Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, insisting that a reporter chosen to ask questions is biased against him.

Associated Press Writer

SEATTLE —

Republican John Koster has pulled out of a televised live debate with Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, insisting that a reporter chosen to ask questions is biased against him.

Koster spokesman Matt Parker said Wednesday that panelist, Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield, has written stories and columns that paint his candidate as an extremist.

The campaign gave public television station KCTS the final word Tuesday that Koster, a social and fiscal conservative who's hoping to unseat the five-term incumbent Larsen in Washington state's 2nd Congressional District race, wouldn't participate in Thursday's debate if Cornfield remained on the panel.

The debate has been canceled.

KCTS host Enrique Cerna, who was to be the debate moderator, said Cornfield is a credible reporter and a perfect fit for the panel because he's the main political writer at the biggest newspaper in the district, which covers northwestern Washington from Snohomish County to the Canadian border.

The station said it doesn't let campaigns influence whom it picks as panelists.

"We wanted a solid journalist who had covered the race, who would ask straightforward questions about where these guys stand on the issues," Cerna said. "I read his stuff. I didn't see anything that showed any bias."

The two candidates have appeared in a prerecorded televised debate, a 10-minute matchup on Seattle's KING-TV last month. They were scheduled to appear at a candidate forum together Friday that will be televised later.

The Herald's executive editor, Neal Pattison, said Wednesday that Koster's campaign had never complained to him or other editors about Cornfield's reporting. Cornfield has covered politics for the newspaper since 2004 and is one of a few political reporters who covers state government in Olympia.

"We're more than happy to respond to any specific complaints they have," Pattison said.

The Herald's editorial page has endorsed Koster.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Parker declined to cite specific stories, columns or Internet posts the Koster campaign objected to, saying it would take a "whole other call." Parker said Cornfield has "gone out of his way to make John Koster look like someone who's an extremist."

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"He's not a reporter anymore. He's a columnist," Parker said. "His opinions are very clear. He's not been very flattering about John Koster in any of his opinion columns, and frankly, when he has put on his reporter hat, we don't think his stories have been very fair."

A review of the Herald's online archives show several stories Cornfield has written about the race, with topics ranging from the candidates' money-raising efforts to the boost Koster's campaign received from Sarah Palin's endorsement.

In one column, Cornfield noted that Koster is the only federal candidate in the state to sign a pledge to try to impeach the president if his administration doesn't immediately secure the border from illegal immigration. The group that circulated the pledge, Americans for Legal Immigration, endorsed him.

Several of Cornfield's stories have pointed out that Koster has not been discussing social issues on the campaign trail in an effort to focus on what he says is the biggest issue in the campaign: the economy. In an interview with the AP this month, Koster said reporters are the only people who ask him about social issues.

"I know for a few people on both sides of those issues, those are the litmus tests," he said. "But I believe the vast majority of people are going to be voting on the economy."

Koster opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest, as well as domestic partnerships for gay couples, which he describes as equivalent to gay marriage.

Those views are out of touch with the district's voters, Larsen said.

Larsen's campaign criticized Koster's decision to pull out of the debate. Campaign manager Brooke Davis noted that Larsen has faced hostile audiences several times, including at a health care forum at a minor league baseball stadium and at a Bellingham tea party forum in July.

"Not only are Koster's extreme views out of touch with the people, he cannot even be bothered to show up and defend them," Davis said.

Both Koster and Larsen plan to appear Friday at a candidate's forum sponsored by the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce at the Tulalip casino.

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