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Navy Captain Targets Larsen

GOP Says Hangover From Disputed Race May Aid Roulstone

Republicans think they are close to perfecting the recipe for winning Washington state’s 2nd district, but Democrats say the GOP’s measurements are off.

Retired Navy Capt. Doug Roulstone has national and state Republicans believing he can recapture the seat that was held by a Republican as recently as 2000.

The current Congressman, Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), won narrow victories in 2000 and 2002, followed by a more comfortable victory last year.

But Republicans say Roulstone’s military background, combined with his small business experience, is exactly what a GOP candidate needs to win the almost evenly split district. Furthermore, a majority of residents in the Evergreen State believe that Republican nominee Dino Rossi actually won last year’s governor’s race, which leaves Democrats vulnerable to an angry electorate throughout the state.

“He’s incredibly strong on veterans and military issues, and he’s a successful small business owner,” National Republican Congressional Campaign spokesman Jonathan Collegio said of Roulstone. “He’s the type of Republican who can win in the Pacific Northwest — conservative on business and tax issues and a little more moderate on social issues.”

The 2nd includes several military installations that put 17,000 active-duty military personnel on the ground in the district that runs along the Puget Sound north of the Seattle suburbs to the Canadian border. Approximately 80,000 veterans live in the 2nd district as well.

Roulstone moved to the Everett area in 1999 after retiring from a career in the Navy. He was the commanding officer and skipper of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

He now owns a company that designs and manufactures precision machine parts and employs 150 people.

In 1975, Roulstone was a search and rescue pilot stationed at Whidbey Island, which is in the 2nd district. After the Snohomish River Valley flood that year, he “personally rescued 107 men, women, and children,” according to his biography.

On Wednesday, Roulstone traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Republican officials and was invited to a meeting of the House Republican Conference.

Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Republicans are getting their hopes up for nothing.

Larsen “knows the district,” she said. “He’s a perfect fit; he’s very well-liked, very popular and this is a blue state and continues to be a blue district.”

But Washington State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance says there is a movement afoot that may allow Washington to buck what could be a national trend favoring Democrats next year.

“There is something very interesting and unique happening here,” Vance said.

A recent poll by a GOP firm shows King County Executive Ron Sims (D), who is well-known and has run for statewide office before, trailing his Republican challenger in November’s municipal elections.

King County, which includes Seattle, was ground zero for disputed ballots and the allegations of voter fraud that plagued Gov. Christine Gregoire’s (D) ascension to her executive post after three ballot counts and a lawsuit.

“What’s driving it is anger over the stolen governor’s race,” Vance said. “There’s great anger out here.”

If Sims loses on Nov. 8, “every Democrat should shake in their boots,” Vance said.

While Vance acknowledged Sims could bear the brunt of voter’s anger, he still predicted 2006 “might be a bad year to be a Democrat in Washington state.”

Feinberg says she does not believe the 2004 governor’s race will reverberate through 2006.

“It just doesn’t translate into Congressional races, especially not the 2nd district,” which did not have the voting problems, she said.

Yet Republicans point to more reasons why Roulstone can be formidable: the district favored Rossi last year, it has elected Republicans to Congress in the past and political strategists do not foresee a lot of pickup opportunities for the House GOP next year, meaning the NRCC may spend money to defeat Larsen.

“I think Doug is benefiting from the relatively small number of competitive races nationally,” Vance said. “We’ve been frustrated in the past at lack of national attention. In 2002 we had a great candidate, we begged for help and it just didn’t quite make the cut. We think with national help we can win this race.”

In 2002, Larsen faced a woefully underfunded challenger, Norma Smith, a former top aide to his predecessor, Jack Metcalf (R). Despite spending just $555,000 to Larsen’s almost $1.8 million, Smith still pulled 46 percent of the vote to Larsen’s 50 percent.

Larsen, who was first elected in the open 2000 election, received 64 percent of the vote last year against Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair, who spent only $38,740.

“The NRCC has been a lot of talk about this district for a long time but in the end, they never go in,” Feinberg said. “They get close to Election Day and they realize what we know, that Rick Larsen is unbeatable.”

Roulstone already has more money in the bank than any of his predecessors did at this point. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) traveled to Everett in August to help Roulstone raise cash and to show the party’s seriousness about his candidacy.

Roulstone had almost $140,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30 compared to Larsen’s almost $485,000.

Collegio said the NRCC has yet to decide which races to target, but he said Washington state’s 2nd district has a good chance of being one.

“It is definitely a race that we are interested in,” he said. “If Roulstone can raise the money, put together a good team and focus on local issues … down the line in a close race, all options are open.”