In the last debate before the Aug. 7 primary election, five Democratic candidates vying for the 1st Congressional District tried put some daylight between their mostly-similar, mostly-liberal policy positions by focusing on personality and personal narrative.
But the biggest contrasts aired at Wednesday’s Seattle CityClub debate on the Microsoft campus were with the sole Republican in the race, John Koster. Polls indicate – and his opponents believe – he will cruise to the November general election, leaving the five Democrats to jockey for one spot in the top-two primary.
In a lightning round of questions, Koster was the only candidate to express support for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. And he was also the only candidate to oppose marijuana legalization, gay marriage, the Dream Act and raising taxes on people making $1 million.
The five Democrats in the race are all liberal on social issues (pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-marijuana legalization) and support further stimulus spending. State Sen. Steve Hobbs – who called himself “an extreme centrist moderate” in comparison to his fellow Democrats – at one point hugged Koster after they both indicated support for charter schools. “Did someone get a picture?” asked the moderator, Seattle Times assistant political editor Joni Balter.
Darcy Burner, the “rabble-rousing” progressive activist leading among the Democrats in most polls, claimed the quote of the debate by advocating that Congress reinstate the now-expired assault weapons ban. “I’m pretty sure the only thing you hunt with an AK-47 is dragons.” Last week, she wrote that the shootings at a movie theater in Denver showed it was time for an “adult conversation” on gun control. “The NRA can go to hell,” she concluded.
Suzan DelBene, a former corporate vice president at Microsoft, got the most pointed question from a member of the audience who asked how much of her personal fortune she would spend on the campaign. She has already transferred $1 million, and new campaign finance filings tomorrow will likely reveal further self-financing. DelBene said in addition to asking donors for support, she would “do my part,” without specifying how much.
DelBene stuck to her campaign stump speech and themes in now-ubiquitous advertising by emphasizing her family’s backstory.
Hobbs emphasized his humble personal finances. “I make $55,000 a year. I drive a Ford Focus that barely works sometimes,” said Hobbs.
No questions were asked of Laura Ruderman about her mother’s effort to finance attacks on DelBene’s business record and, more recently, on Burner (an ad called her a “loose cannon”). She emphasized her work in Olympia 10 years ago with Republicans while representing a majority-Republican district.
On Wednesday, DelBene supporter Jim Baum filed an FEC complaint against Ruderman’s mother’s PAC and Ruderman’s campaign, accusing them of violating campaign finance limits by coordinating on the attack ads. Ruderman’s campaign continues to deny any coordination.
Darshan Rauniyar, a Nepalese immigrant who co-founded a small business, has the most unique personal narrative but has struggled to gain attention with better-known and wealthier opponents. He said Congress needs a “paradigm shift” away from fractiousness.
A seventh candidate, independent Larry Ishmael, wasn’t invited to the event.
An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly quoted Hobbs.