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Originally published Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 9:32 AM

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Voters face crowded ballots for 1st District

Voters in the 1st Congressional District - both the old and the new - have a crowded and contentious primary ballot to choose from when they decide next week who moves on to the November ballot and a two-year term in Congress.

Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Voters in the 1st Congressional District - both the old and the new - have a crowded and contentious primary ballot to choose from when they decide next week who moves on to the November ballot and a two-year term in Congress.

Voters in the newly redistricted 1st District - which runs from northern King County to the Canadian border, encompassing areas in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties - have five Democrats, one Republican and one independent to choose from on the Aug. 7 primary ballot. The top two vote-getters will advance to the November ballot.

Recent polls show Republican John Koster leading the pack and easily advancing to November. Democrat and political activist Darcy Burner had been leading former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene in polls until recently, when DelBene, who has had TV ads on the air for about a month, took a slight lead over Burner for the second spot.

"That collision for the second runoff spot is ferocious," said David Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed. "There will be a lot of attention on this race."

Of the 10 congressional seats on the primary ballot, the 1st District has been the one to watch since earlier this year, when former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee resigned to focus on his race for governor.

The timing of his departure meant the primary for the special election to fill the remaining month of his term is on the same ballot as the primary for the regular election for the 2013-2015 term.

Because of redistricting, the district takes on a new shape in January, moving farther east and north. As a result, the state has been forced to hold one election to temporarily replace Inslee under the old boundaries, which included Kitsap County, and another vote under the new boundaries. Some areas of old and new overlap, so some voters will be casting ballots in both elections.

In addition to DelBene and Burner, other Democrats vying for the new 1st District two-year term are state Sen. Steve Hobbs; former state Rep. Laura Ruderman; and Bothell high-tech entrepreneur Darshan Rauniyar.

Koster, a Snohomish County councilman, is the only Republican in the race, and Larry Ishmael is running as an independent. DelBene, Burner, Koster and Ishmael have all fallen short in prior runs for Congress.

The state Democratic Party had hoped it had an agreement on one candidate - Snohomish County Councilman Brian Sullivan - to run in the special election for the one-month replacement term. But at the filing deadline in May, Burner entered that race in addition to the two-year contest, causing all but Hobbs and Ishmael to follow suit.

Also filing for the special election were J. Bryon Holcomb, Brian Berry and Ruth Morrison, all Democrats; Republican Steven Gerdes; and independent Bob Champion.

Because of the geographic differences between the old and new 1st District, it's possible that different candidates could emerge in each race.

"It's going to be an interesting twist to an already interesting race," Ammons said.

A political action committee funded by Ruderman's mother has been attacking mostly DelBene but has sent out mailers against Burner as well, prompting a supporter of DelBene to file a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission. Ruderman insists there was no coordination between her campaign and the activities of the committee and asked for the end of the negative campaigning by the political action committee.

DelBene, who has received support from much of the state's Democratic establishment, has mostly self-funded her campaign, donating $2.3 million so far. She has raised more than her Democratic opponents combined. At a candidate forum last week, Burner apparently referred to DelBene when she talked about a candidate who "decided rather than to raise the money for the election, she would try to buy it."

DelBene has brushed off the criticism and noted that she's received nearly half a million in individual donations as well.

"I think if I'm going to ask other voters to invest in my campaign I should also do my part, and I have," she said.

The new district is more politically evenly split than the old, giving Republicans hope for a seat they haven't held since 1998, when Inslee first won it.

A comparison between the 2010 U.S. Senate race between Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Dino Rossi and the 2008 governor's race between Rossi and Gov. Chris Gregoire shows the new 1st District has gone from being nearly 56 percent Democratic to nearly 51 percent Republican, according to numbers provided by the secretary of state's office.

Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, noted the areas comprising the newly drawn 1st District have elected Democrats and Republicans in prior elections.

"It's a competitive seat," he said. "It's one that nobody can take for granted."

That competition is evident by the number of Democrats crowded into the primary field, something that national Democrats say will create a stronger general election candidate.

"It's always good to have a vibrant debate and all of the Democrats are certainly better known to the 1st than they were a few months ago," said Stephen Carter, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

At the recent forum, each candidate talked about the issues they'd like to be identified with.

Burner said she wanted to "restore government of, by and for the people, not government bought and paid for by large corporations and multimillionaires." DelBene promised to stand up for the middle class, while Hobbs said he'd like to bring civility back into politics.

Ruderman said she wanted to rebuild the economy with a focus on expanding access to affordable health care. Darshan noted he's not a career politician and would bring a different perspective to Washington, and Koster said he wanted to find solutions to issues that didn't involve larger government programs.

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