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Originally published June 24, 2012 at 6:01 PM | Page modified July 13, 2012 at 4:36 PM

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Dem front-runner in 6th District; 5 Republicans vying for a shot

Republicans see this year's election as their best chance in decades to take the 6th Congressional District seat that's been held by Rep. Norm Dicks, who is retiring. But state Sen. Derek Kilmer is working to keep the position in Democrats' hands.

The News Tribune

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Kevin Schaul and Dean Kramer / The Seattle Times

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As the lone Democrat in his race for Congress, Derek Kilmer is the heir apparent to retiring U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.

But Republicans aren't going to let their best chance in decades to take the 6th Congressional District seat go by without a fight. Five Republicans are among the seven Pierce County men trying to make it through the Aug. 7 primary election.

Personal wealth should allow Bill Driscoll, a real-estate executive and Weyerhaeuser descendant, to outspend the candidates who are more familiar to GOP activists: lawyer Doug Cloud and technology consultant Jesse Young. Also in the race are real-estate investor Stephan Brodhead and accountant and software-company owner David Eichner, plus an independent, Eric Arentz.

Whoever prevails is likely to face an uphill battle in November against state Sen. Kilmer, the only candidate with experience as an elected official.

Washington's 6th District is one of the state's more evenly divided between the parties, but Democrats have won 24 straight elections over 48 years.

"It would be a pretty big upset for a Republican to win this race," former state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said.

Vance said he had written off Republicans' chances in the 6th until Driscoll decided to run. With a well-funded candidate, Vance says his party has a shot.

Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who helped draw the new district lines after the 2010 census, agrees the 6th is "marginally competitive." Gorton's redistricting counterpart, Democrat and former Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, said Kilmer's victories in a Republican-leaning legislative district show he can reach beyond just Democrats.

But the current GOP chairman, Kirby Wilbur, is talking up the chances for his party and says Driscoll or Young could attract Democrats who are blue-collar workers.

Vance said the race between the Republicans will come down to who has money to get their messages out through advertising. Congressional races cover too much ground for a campaign based on face-to-face meetings with voters, he said.

The district straddles both sides of the Tacoma Narrows and stretches north through Kitsap County and west through the Olympic Peninsula. Redistricting took away University Place, east Lakewood and Shelton, Mason County, in exchange for Bainbridge Island and the rest of north Kitsap.

The GOP candidates tout their business backgrounds, and some also have military experience to emphasize, including Driscoll (Marine Corps), Eichner (Navy) and Brodhead (Air Force).

If some candidates' time in uniform stands out as a contrast, Young recounts his own upbringing in a poor family in and out of homelessness in Tacoma's Hilltop as a point of difference with Driscoll.

Young also highlights his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Driscoll is the rare Republican who favors both, saying the government should stay out of those personal decisions.

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Some of the biggest differences between the Republicans come on military issues. Eichner, a supporter of presidential candidate Ron Paul, favors ending the Afghan war, while Cloud says the U.S. shouldn't be fighting there without a declaration of war.

Driscoll, like Kilmer, says the U.S. presence should be phased out, as is happening now.

Driscoll draws on his time stationed in Afghanistan, where he says he saw how the original U.S. mission had expanded to include democracy building — which he says is a job for diplomats, not soldiers.

"We have to be more cautious in our foreign affairs," Driscoll, who also had a combat tour in Iraq, told the delegates at the recent state GOP convention.

But Young says the war effort has been constrained because of news coverage of military missteps. He said the media should be removed, not the military, which has promises to keep in Afghanistan.

"We shouldn't have had to fight this war in front of the media," Young told the delegates.

He pointed to the coverage of the massacre of Afghan civilians and charges against former Lake Tapps resident and Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, and the reaction from President Obama, who called the killings "outrageous" and "unacceptable."

"I would never apologize for the United States. Ever. Period," Young said in an interview. "You either believe in our country or you don't."

On other military issues, Brodhead, in campaign literature, calls for a more aggressive funding schedule for Boeing's Air Force refueling tanker to create jobs. Eichner cites the same goal in calling for reducing military bases around the globe.

Driscoll says his effort to tame debt would include taking on Pentagon purchasing. But he said U.S. defense strategy should focus on Asia and the Pacific Ocean, which could benefit local military bases.

Cloud sees corruption in Congress tied to military spending. His biggest applause line at the GOP convention came in describing his request for files from an FBI investigation into members of Congress steering defense contracts to a campaign contributor's clients. He asserts that Dicks would be implicated by the documents and that Dicks resigned to keep the files from being released.

"I almost single-handedly destroyed the career of Norm Dicks," he told delegates. "What I did to Norm Dicks I can do the rest of 'em."

Dicks denies that, and a House ethics committee cleared him of wrongdoing. State Democrats' spokesman Benton Strong said suggestions that Dicks was acting as anything other than "an unbelievable advocate for that district" are unfounded.

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Between the two parties, the biggest contrast may be competing strategies on government's role in stimulating the economy.

Kilmer's prescription for creating jobs includes reducing the tax and regulatory burden on small businesses — a proposal that comes naturally from his day job at the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County.

But he also says government can juice the economy by spending money on such projects as roads and sewer systems.

That's a reflection of his role in directing state money to public-works projects as co-author of the capital budget, which funds government construction and renovation projects, and environmental-cleanup efforts.

A deal Kilmer and other Democrats negotiated with Republicans this year allowed the state to borrow extra money for projects while also asking voters to tighten the state's debt limit.

But the Republicans running to take on Kilmer say stimulus provides only fleeting jobs while adding to the nation's deficits.

Addressing supporters at a fundraiser in Gig Harbor, Kilmer said government doesn't directly create jobs, only sets the conditions for them. But he said government needs defending from being "made to be incompetent by an ideology that says government can't do anything right."

Young argues for deregulation as a way to help companies create jobs. He says the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, is threatening jobs by putting up obstacles to Northwest coal exports.

To deal with the deficit, Young calls for cutting health-care costs through lawsuit reform and weeding out medical fraud.

Driscoll says he would be pragmatic and build relationships across party lines to work out a budget-cutting deal. It's similar to what Kilmer promises, citing his own work on the debt deals and balancing an out-of-whack state budget to show he can work with the other side.

"I think it's worth looking at the revenue side of the ledger," Kilmer said in an interview. "The federal government has tax breaks for everything from race horses to imported ceiling fans, and I don't think that makes sense."

Driscoll says some tax exemptions would have to be eliminated as part of a bipartisan solution to the deficit. Brodhead is the most specific about new revenue, calling for a higher payroll tax to shore up Social Security and for seniors to foot more of their Medicare costs.

Eichner and Cloud have the most sweeping proposals for cuts — moving federal responsibility for education to the state level, for example. Cloud also calls for eliminating farm subsidies. And Eichner calls for eliminating foreign aid, the Transportation Security Administration and the departments of Energy, Commerce, Interior and Housing and Urban Development.

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