Larsen Keeps It Local to Fight the GOP Tide
MOUNT VERNON, Wash. ‘ Rep. Rick Larsen says he burns shoe leather during every campaign, ringing doorbells across Washington’s 2nd district in this northwest corner of the state regardless of whether he’s in a competitive battle. This year, the five-term Democrat might need a new pair of shoes.
Heading into the cycle, this was not a race many were watching since Larsen won his past three elections with at least 62 percent and President Barack Obama carried the district with 56 percent. But as Democrats faced an increasingly angry electorate, massive spending from Republican-aligned outside groups and Senate battles drawing more attention to local races, the spotlight shifted to Larsen.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon as he campaigned door-to-door in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Baker, Larsen rang the doorbells of voters his campaign identified as independents that had yet to vote. The responses from those answering the doors were positive. Larsen said many tell him it’s rare to see a politician on their doorstep. Some voters assured Larsen, carrying a clipboard with names and addresses, that they would send him back to Washington. Others bent his ear as he stood on their front porches about jobs and a top issue he’s been campaigning on: championing Boeing’s bid to build an Air Force refueling tanker.
‘In a year like this, I think this grass-roots effort that we’re doing is the little engine that could for us,’ Larsen said as he walked from one house to another. ‘This will get us over the hill.’
[IMGCAP(1)]To get back to Capitol Hill, Larsen needs to defeat Snohomish County Councilman John Koster, the Republican he beat by 4 points in his first election to Congress in 2000. But just like 10 years ago, Koster again finished ahead of Larsen in the all-party primary.
According to a SurveyUSA poll released last weekend, Larsen leads 50 percent to 46 percent ‘ the exact margin of their first race.
As he works to convince voters in driveways and on their front lawns, Larsen often highlights his work on behalf of Boeing Co., the largest private employer in the district. Because of the subsidies received by Airbus, Boeing’s chief competitor, Larsen said Boeing is not on a level playing field.
‘The No. 1 thing we can do, the biggest impact we can have is to help Boeing land this,’ Larsen said. ‘It’s 11,000 jobs in the Puget Sound. It’s about a $693 million investment and would have an immediate impact’ on the district’s economy.
And since voters say the race is about jobs and the economy, it’s a critical local issue. Discussing Boeing’s importance to the district in a recent radio interview, Koster said, ‘The refueling tanker needs to be built in this country, whether it’s built at this plant or somewhere else.’ Larsen’s campaign has jumped on the comment, attempting to paint him as insensitive to the district’s economic plight.
Democrats also are going after Koster on Social Security.
An ad running last week during the Major League Baseball playoffs broadcast in Seattle attacked Koster for seeking ‘to privatize Social Security and gamble away seniors’ guaranteed benefit in the stock market.’
The SurveyUSA poll indicated that Democrats’ Social Security argument may be working, despite Koster’s insistence that he in fact has no plans to privatize it. Among voters 65 and older, Larsen led 55 percent to 40 percent.
Veteran Democratic strategist Ron Dotzauer said it’s ‘surprising’ the race got this close. ‘The first sort of wake-up call was the primary in August. The reality of what the cycle was all about didn’t hit Washington state until this race, more than the Murray-Rossi race,’ he said.
Sen. Patty Murray (D) and Dino Rossi (R) are locked in a tight battle ‘ with ads blanketing the airwaves ‘ that has the potential to affect downticket races. In 2004, when Murray won re-election and Rossi barely lost the gubernatorial race, both carried the 2nd district, and Larsen won with 64 percent.
Former Washington GOP Chairman Chris Vance sees the primary results as a good sign for Larsen and Rossi. The three Democrats running in the five-candidate 2nd district primary took a total of 52 percent, and the two Republicans totaled 48 percent.
‘Forget all the polls and everything else. Look at real people actually voting,’ Vance said. ‘If the primary results are replicated, Murray loses, we win the 3rd district, Koster comes up just a little bit short and we win major gains in the Legislature.’
National Democrats take Larsen’s race seriously, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditures totaling more than $600,000, including a $344,000 check cut on Tuesday.
‘It says a lot about the state of affairs in the Democratic Party when they have to shell out money to save an entrenched Member like Rick Larsen,’ said Greg Blair, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
With an expanded playing field, the NRCC chose not to spend in the district’s expensive Seattle media market. Thanks to outside spending by conservative groups such as the American Future Fund, with $560,000 on TV advertising, total spending in opposition to Larsen also topped $600,000, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
DCCC spokesman Andy Stone said the campaign committee is spending there to help Larsen ‘fight back against the hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed funds that shadowy, third-party groups have spent on false and misleading ads.’
Koster has tied Larsen to the national Democratic leadership and said a vote for the Congressman is a vote to keep the country moving in the same direction. In a candidate forum last week, Koster cited a poll showing that a quarter of Americans believe the American dream is no longer attainable, and he blamed Washington.
‘You look at failed stimulus packages, out of control spending, huge deficits, bailouts for the Wall Street fat cats, earmarks and the corruption, and frankly a Congress that seems unable or unwilling to do the things necessary to get this economy moving,’ Koster said. ‘We’ve got to stop spending money we don’t have.’
The partisan divide in the district is closer than Larsen’s recent winning margins indicate, but the Congressman said he feels good about the race heading into the final days.
‘It’s a big variety pack, which is why it’s known as a swing district,’ Larsen said as he walked up yet another driveway. ‘For a lot of folks, you show up at the door, even hard-core Republican areas, you still get pretty nice responses.’