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Thursday, November 1, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

Candidate Koster draws fire for comments on rape, abortion

By Emily Heffter
Seattle Times staff reporter

1st District congressional candidate John Koster drew criticism Wednesday for how he spoke about abortion and rape in a secretly recorded conversation.

Koster, a Republican, said he believes abortion should be illegal, even in cases of incest or rape, unless the life of the mother is in danger. But he has tried to draw attention away from abortion rights, preferring to discuss the economy. The recording is one of the first times during this campaign that Koster explained his position in his own words. "... Incest is so rare, I mean it's so rare," he says on the recording. "But the rape thing, you know, I know a woman who was raped and kept her child, gave it up for adoption and doesn't regret it. In fact she's a big pro-life proponent. But, on the rape thing, it's like, how does putting more violence onto a woman's body and taking the life of an innocent child that's a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better?"

Abortion-rights advocates compared his comments to others made by male, Republican politicians about rape that have been panned nationally during the campaign season.

A spokesman for his opponent, Democrat Suzan DelBene, said the comments were "callous."

With less than a week left in the campaign, the recording may be timely for DelBene who is in a tight race with Koster for the newly drawn district, which runs from the high-tech suburb of Redmond north to the Canadian border.

Throughout the race, she and liberal supporters have bought hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of ads drawing attention to Koster's conservative social views.

For the most part, he has deflected questions about abortion by saying voters are more worried about jobs and the economy.

Koster released a statement Wednesday evening: "Rape is a vicious and horribly violent crime, and no one in Washington state has been tougher on criminals and sex offenders than I have been, period."

His campaign manager, Larry Stickney, conceded that Koster's choice of words "wasn't so hot," but stood by Koster's remarks. "He very clearly and honestly stated his thoughts on an extremely sensitive subject," Stickney said. "He has nothing to be ashamed of here."

Fuse Washington, a liberal political group, sent an activist to a Koster fundraiser in Everett on Sunday to record the comments, said Fuse spokesman Collin Jergens. The activist, whose name has not been released, is a former Snohomish County dairy farmer and had friends in common with Koster, a former dairyman himself.

Koster didn't know he was being recorded, Stickney said, and believed he was speaking casually to a supporter.

Fuse posted the audio on Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday afternoon.

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

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