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Originally published Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 6:11 PM

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1st Congressional District: Koster, DelBene provide stark contrast

The two candidates in the 1st Congressional District, Republican John Koster and Democrat Suzan DelBene, disagree on just about everything. Here is a quick guide to the candidates' views on major issues in the race.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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There is a lot to debate in the last month of Washington's 1st Congressional District race. The candidates, Republican John Koster and Democrat Suzan DelBene, disagree on just about everything.

DelBene, a former Microsoft executive who briefly ran the state Department of Revenue, is campaigning on steps she believes government can take to help people. She's socially liberal, sometimes repeating national Democratic talking points about the Republican "war on women."

Koster, a Snohomish County Council member and former dairy farmer, jokes that he didn't join the Tea Party — "they joined me." For decades, he's been campaigning on reducing the size of government. On social issues, he looks to his conservative Christian beliefs.

Both campaigns have reserved a slew of television ads this week, and independent Democratic groups have begun attacking Koster in television ads criticizing his views on abortion rights.

Here's a roundup of the biggest issues in the race — and where the two candidates stand:

Size and role of government

DelBene said government should create a foundation for economic growth, for example by offering loans for higher education and making sure people have services they need. She said government should be as efficient as possible, but rather than focus on a particular size, it should be big enough to "get the job done."

Koster supports a smaller, more effective government. He believes Congress should weigh carefully when government gets involved, and generally get involved less. Much of what the federal government does, he thinks, should be in the state's hands. Government should limit regulation and taxes, so the private sector can flourish.

Tax cuts

Koster would extend the Bush-era tax cuts, including those that benefit wealthier Americans. He does not favor new taxes and believes the government should flatten and simplify the tax structure.

DelBene would let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for people who earn more than $250,000 a year. She supports the Buffett Rule, which says that no household making over $1 million should pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families have to pay. And she favors tax reform to simplify the tax code and make it more equitable.

Immigration

DelBene supports federal immigration reform that would allow people to come to the U.S. temporarily to work and offer "an earned path" to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally. She supports the proposed Dream Act, allowing people brought to the country illegally as young children a way to become citizens. She opposes E-Verify, a computerized system to help farmers determine the immigration status of workers, because, she says, it does not work.

Koster believes that the country should enforce its immigration laws more tightly. He supports E-Verify, though he acknowledges it needs improvement. The U.S. should have a process for people in the country illegally, so they can change their status, he says. Children brought into the country illegally when they were young should be able to go through a process to become legal citizens by the time they are 18, he said.

Abortion rights

Koster opposes abortion rights, including in the case of rape or incest. In the event where an abortion would save the life of the mother, Koster believes having an abortion should be legal, and called it "a personal choice."

DelBene supports abortion rights.

Gay marriage

DelBene supports legalizing gay marriage and is voting to approve Referendum 74.

Koster, a co-sponsor of the state's Defense of Marriage Act when he was a state representative, believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. He is voting to reject Referendum 74.

Health care

Koster says the federal Affordable Care Act is bad policy and supports its repeal. He thinks health-care reform should be done largely at the state level. He believes people should be able to buy any health insurance they want, across state lines, in a more competitive environment. He is open to compromise on some parts of the Affordable Care Act, including government rules that would protect people with pre-existing conditions and allow young adults to stay on their parents' plans until they turn 26.

DelBene supports the Affordable Care Act, though she concedes it is not perfect. She thinks Congress should work on fixing the problems in the act, rather than repealing it.

Medicare

DelBene would leave Medicare the same, to ensure it remains a guarantee of benefits, not just an allotment of money. To pay for the program, she would make it a priority in future federal budgets and allow Medicare to negotiate prescription-drug prices.

Koster says government must change its approach to Medicare. Under the plan he supports, Medicare would not change for people currently age 55 and older. Everyone else would have an option to stay on Medicare or accept a government stipend, which they could spend on insurance in the private market.

Tax pledges

and philosophy

Koster did not sign the Grover Norquist pledge — which promises not to raise taxes — this year, though he did sign it in 2010. He said he would not raise taxes but supports closing some corporate loopholes in the tax code, which would, in effect, increase taxes paid by corporations.

DelBene has not signed any tax pledges.

Charter

schools

DelBene does not support the state charter-schools initiative, I-1240. She says schools are able to offer innovative programs now, and the government should focus on ensuring schools have enough funding to continue to do that.

Koster supports charter schools as a way to allow educators to innovate and get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math education and other special programs. He is voting for the state's charter-schools proposal, which he believes has the right amount of oversight.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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