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Originally published Friday, November 9, 2012 at 7:46 PM

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Koster blames loss on state GOP leaders

Finger pointing has erupted in the Republican Party over John Koster's loss to Democrat Suzan DelBene in the 1st Congressional District...

Seattle Times staff

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Finger pointing has erupted in the Republican Party over John Koster's loss to Democrat Suzan DelBene in the 1st Congressional District.

Trailing 47-53 percent, Koster conceded the race Friday. But in a letter to supporters, he took shots at national and state Republican leaders.

"Neither the National Republican Congressional Committee nor the Washington State Republican Party (WSRP) stepped up to provide us with anything more than token support. To be frank, we were on our own, yet thanks to people such as you, we nearly overcame the odds," Koster wrote.

State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur called Koster's assessment hogwash.

"They simply ran a horrible campaign," he said. Wilbur put much of the blame on campaign manager, Larry Stickney.

The campaign didn't get more help because it didn't meet targets for fundraising and organization set by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which had to divvy up its money among congressional candidates nationally, he said.

Though Koster was named to the NRCC's "Young Guns" program, he didn't get cash to buy the TV ads needed to compete with DelBene.

"The NRCC wanted to work with them, wanted to help them, wanted to give them money; they didn't meet any of the marks," Wilbur said, adding that the campaign also resisted advice from the state party.

Wilbur said the tension between Koster's campaign and the NRCC had been building since at least summer. In a July conference call, Wilbur said, he heard Stickney say a top NRCC operative disliked the campaign because the operative was a "liberal."

In an email, Stickney disputed Wilbur's account of the campaign, saying Koster had met very rigorous standards to be named to the NRCC "Young Guns" program. Yet the party still did not come through with needed help.

"The NRCC, as well as the WSRP, simply chose to not weigh into our campaign to a degree that would impact our race in a meaningful way ... and the bottom line is that we lost because we were outspent 5-1," Stickney wrote.

DelBene, a former Microsoft executive, dumped $2.8 million of her own money into her campaign.

It's not clear whether more cash or a better-run campaign would have pushed Koster over the top. The 1st District was redrawn last year to be the state's only true swing district — equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. In other words, a district likely to favor a political centrist.

But Koster, a Snohomish County Council member, is a longtime social conservative who embraced the tea-party movement and, like other national Republicans, made controversial comments about rape and abortion.

To reach a Seattle Times political editor, call 206-464-2204.

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