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

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Larsen, Matthews spar over the congressman's record

Dan Matthews, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, attacked the incumbent and Congress on Tuesday during an hourlong endorsement interview, including by arguing that the Everett Democrat is not really responsible for many things he lists as accomplishments.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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US. Rep. Rick Larsen touts a long list of accomplishments, but his opponent in the 2nd Congressional District says he was not actually responsible for many of them.

That unusual argument arose Tuesday as the challenger, Republican Dan Matthews, said that while the six-term Democratic congressman's record looks impressive, achievements like helping land a tanker contract for Boeing and clearing the way for a veterans' outpatient clinic in Mount Vernon were "handed to him on a platter."

"There is a dishonesty in the political game of taking credit for things that he really wasn't responsible for," Matthews said in an endorsement interview with The Seattle Times editorial board.

In response, Larsen, an Everett Democrat, defended his record.

"Part of this job I've come to accept is criticism," he said. "I would like it to be accurate, and I've found in this campaign some of it isn't, unfortunately."

It was the most contentious exchange of an hourlong discussion that mostly featured Matthews voicing frustration with Congress and Larsen focusing on specific things he has done.

The two candidates, who are running to represent a district that includes western Snohomish and Skagit counties, Bellingham, and Whidbey and Camano islands, also traded jabs about military issues, the deficit and President Obama's health-care overhaul.

Matthews, a former Air Force pilot and commercial-airline instructor now living in Mukilteo, said he would be better able to represent the district on military issues in Congress.

"He (Larsen) didn't serve in the military, so he doesn't understand all those issues," Matthews said, attacking his opponent for supporting small raises in health-care premiums paid for veterans as part of a deficit-reduction move. "His position on military issues and on defense really is making victims of the people who serve in the military and who have served."

Larsen said premiums are much lower than when he joined Congress in 2000. He said he has enjoyed strong support from service members and veterans.

The two appeared to agree on Afghanistan, with both calling for a faster troop withdrawal than proposed by Obama.

There was also broad agreement on the deficit, as both candidates said spending needs to be reviewed across the board to find places to cut.

Matthews went further, however, arguing that lawmakers should consider eliminating the Department of Education and letting states set education policy on their own.

The candidates also disagreed on Obama's health-care legislation: Larsen, who voted for the Affordable Care Act, said it should be implemented and adjusted, including by focusing on cost containment. Matthews said the whole thing should be repealed.

Matthews summed up his appeal by arguing Congress needs a complete reboot.

"The people that got us into the situation we're in today are not the ones who are going to change the direction," he said. "And, certainly, a change of direction is needed."

Larsen acknowledged that voters are frustrated with Congress. ("There's nothing enjoyable about a 13 percent approval rating," he said).

"But I think the best thing I can do is at least let people know what I have done in a bipartisan way," he said, pointing to his work to secure more funding for the Washington State Ferries and other accomplishments.

It's unclear how competitive the race will be in November.

Larsen took 57.2 percent of the vote in the primary, while Matthews earned 28.7 percent; two other Republicans shared another 8 percent.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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