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Darshan Rauniyar flaunts newcomer status in 1st District
Bothell businessman Darshan Rauniyar is making his first run for office in a crowded congressional race against established opponents. The native of Nepal is betting that voters are fed up with politics as usual and will be willing to take a chance on his brand of populist politics.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Kevin Schaul and Dean Kramer / The Seattle Times
Businessman Darshan Rauniyar may seem somewhat out of place in the crowded and increasingly contentious race to fill the 1st Congressional District seat left empty by Jay Inslee's run for governor.
Unlike his high-profile and well-funded primary opponents — including an ex-Microsoft vice president, a prominent progressive activist and a current state senator — the Bothell entrepreneur and first-time candidate is a new face for voters.
Since he lacks the other candidates' experience, name recognition and funding connections, the chance of Rauniyar making it past the August primary is low.
But to hear him explain it, those weaknesses can also be strengths.
Running as the outsider candidate, Rauniyar said he is banking on the notion that voters — fed up with the current divisive political climate in Congress — will be willing to look past established politicians and give him a shot.
"We can't elect the same kind of politician again and again and expect different results," Rauniyar said. "That is the definition of insanity."
With the primary's mail-in voting under way, Rauniyar has shifted his grassroots campaign into high gear, marching around the 1st District, spreading his only-in-America story to voters who have never heard of him.
The 42-year-old was born in poverty-stricken Nepal and went to an American-built high school in Katmandu. He came to the United States in 1988 to study electrical engineering at the Oregon Institute of Technology, and later earned a master's in business administration at Portland State University.
Rauniyar worked in the tech world and was one of the co-founders of Flash Ventures, which cornered the market on selling memory drives outside of electronics stores by placing the products in supermarket aisles for average consumers to buy. Rauniyar left the company, now known as Tribeca Gear, in 2010.
He relocated to Bothell 12 years ago and is raising two boys with his wife, Poonam, a local pediatrician.
Rauniyar was introduced to politics as a volunteer for the Obama campaign and soon joined the executive committees of both the 1st Legislative District Democrats and the Snohomish County Democrats.
David Bain, a private contractor and former University of Washington professor, served on the legislative district board with Rauniyar. He said his background in business and academics would bring a more thorough, objective view to the major issues facing Congress, including the environment and education.
Rauniyar came out in strong opposition early this spring to the proposed Bellingham terminal to ship U.S. coal to Asia and has proposed freezing tuition rates for incoming freshmen at universities that receive federal funding, so they have a guaranteed rate for four years.
Rauniyar is the only candidate in this race who has refused to accept any money from political-action committees, a move Bain said will enable Rauniyar to focus on issues, not special interests.
"There are a lot of voters who are upset with how things are working in Congress and he is a welcome change from business as usual," he said.
Still, Rauniyar faces an uphill battle to get his name out among a crowded field. A poll last week showed him in last place among seven candidates, with just 1 percent of the vote. Eighty percent of those polled didn't recognize his name.
The same poll showed Republican John Koster leading in the race with 36 percent of voters in the poll while Democrats Darcy Burner and Suzan DelBene virtually tied with 12 and 11 percent, respectively.
For his part, Rauniyar's campaign has shelled out $145,000 to send direct mailers and launch his first television ad this week, with the goal of boosting his name recognition in the sprint to the primary.
Most of Rauniyar's monetary support has come from fellow Nepalese Americans across the country.
Ravi Rana, a Shoreline travel agent and native of Nepal, said Rauniyar emerged as a leader in the local community after he spearheaded relief efforts when floods hit Nepal a few years ago.
Rauniyar's campaign has made him an international icon and has galvanized the Nepalese-American community in a way never seen before, said Sharda Thapa, a financial consultant from Chicago who has worked in Democratic politics since 2005.
"He is kind of like our Jeremy Lin," said Damodar Poudel, an Ohio doctor who has helped fundraise for the campaign.
Win or lose, Rauniyar said he will work to protect the opportunities that existed for him when he came to the United States.
"It is my duty to give back to the country. It is my duty as a citizen to do this and give my children the same opportunity that I had," Rauniyar said.
Javier Panzar: 206-464-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @jpanzar