This year, for the first time, most Whatcom County residents outside Bellingham will find themselves helping to elect a 1st District member of the House of Representatives.
For local Republicans, the results of redistricting won't be that traumatic. They will see the familiar name John Koster, the Snohomish County Council member who threw a scare into 2nd District Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen two years ago, before the district boundaries shifted to put Koster in the 1st District.
Koster is the only Republican on the ballot and seems a safe bet to advance to the November general election under the state's free-for-all, top-two primary system.
But Democratic-leaning Whatcom County voters are having to acquaint themselves with some new names and faces.
Suzan DelBene, Darcy Burner and Laura Ruderman are all former Microsoft executives. Both Burner and DelBene made unsuccessful runs against Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert before redistricting moved them out of the 8th District. Ruderman formerly served in the State House.
The other Democrats: State. Sen. Steve Hobbs and entrepreneur Darshan Rauniyar, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Nepal.
Hobbs is an Iraq war veteran who bills himself as the candidate with the most appeal to moderates, and the best chance to carry a tossup district for the Democrats in November. A Seattle Times endorsement bolstered his campaign, and he has released his own polling data showing him in a virtual tie with Burner and DelBene, with Ruderman well behind all three.
Ruderman spokeswoman Liz Berry says the Hobbs poll is dubious, and Ruderman's polls show that as many as 40 percent of Democratic voters have yet to make up their minds as ballots hit their mailboxes and Ruderman ramps up her ad campaign.
"I would say there's still a lot of basketball left to be played," Berry said.
Rauniyar is an exuberant evangelist for the American dream who offers lots of original ideas, although polling data indicate his campaign isn't getting much traction. But he says he's getting his message out and receiving an enthusiastic response from the people he meets.
Two years ago, Larsen's campaign attempted to paint Koster as a right-wing extremist. At the recent Whatcom Tea Party forum, Koster seemed to be making sure to avoid providing any material for a similar attack this time around. He made no attempt to get whoops or bursts of applause from the mostly conservative audience.
Larry Stickney, Koster's campaign manager, rejects the idea that the new 1st District is a tossup.
"We do see it as leaning Republican," Stickney said. "We see this as John's race to lose. We think John is a better fit for the district. ... He's certainly not an agitator. Conservative, yes, but he doesn't go out and rabble-rouse, that's for sure."
Viet Shelton, a DelBene spokesman, said he thinks voters will be drawn to his candidate's resume, with impressive experience in both government and private industry.
DelBene has piled up endorsements from many labor unions, and recently added the Sierra Club to her list of backers.
Burner, a favorite among many progressive activists, has endorsements from Whatcom County and 42nd District Democrats.
In their responses to The Bellingham Herald's questionnaire on key issues, some shadings of difference emerge among the Democrats. Koster's views are at odds with his Democratic rivals on most things.
Health care: DelBene and Burner promise to work for a public health care option, going beyond the private insurance mandate in President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Ruderman, Hobbs and Rauniyar endorse Obamacare and pledge to take steps to make it work better while helping to reduce health care costs, but they don't mention a public option.
Koster, like nearly every other Republican candidate, pledges to work for repeal of the act, and stresses free-market solutions to health care problems. He also favors expansion of tax-free health care savings accounts.
Jobs: All the Democrats tout investment in rebuilding roads, bridges and schools to put people back to work. Rauniyar goes further, calling for federal aid to help local governments rehire people laid off in the recession, as well as putting large numbers of people to work on environmental restoration projects. He also advocates modifying free trade agreements to bring some U.S. jobs back from overseas.
Koster says low tax rates are the best economic stimulus.
Taxes: Hobbs, Burner, Rauniyar and Ruderman favor repeal of the Bush tax cuts for wealthier Americans. DelBene also favors higher taxes for the wealthy but does not specifically mention the Bush cuts.
Koster calls for more spending cuts, not tax increases. He argues that elimination of wasteful programs will enable Congress to shift money to more worthwhile things.
Agricultural labor force: DelBene, Burner, Rauniyar, Hobbs and Ruderman all endorse immigration reform and a guest worker program that would include a path to citizenship. DelBene and Ruderman also endorse a path to citizenship for otherwise law-abiding workers already here.
Rauniyar also would like to see steps to encourage wind and biofuel power production on farms, to increase farm revenue and thereby raise farmworker pay.
Koster also recognizes the need for more agricultural laborers and endorses a revamped guest worker program to deal with the issue. He also calls for renewed efforts to secure the border and crack down on illegal immigration.
Gateway Pacific Terminal: SSA Marine's proposed coal export pier at Cherry Point and its impact on rail traffic drew a wide range of responses.
Burner promises to "demand" that BNSF Railway Co. pays a greater share of the cost of railroad overpasses, while seeking federal funding for railroad improvements if necessary.
Ruderman has similar views but adds that she opposes a coal-only terminal and wants to see a more diverse array of cargoes exported.
DelBene says project developers and the railroad should pay a "fair share" of railroad crossing improvement costs, and calls for a thorough environmental review.
Hobbs endorses the coal terminal and negotiations involving BNSF, local, state and federal governments to make sure nobody is stuck with too much of the cost of crossing improvements.
Rauniyar flatly opposes the project, but if it winds up getting approval, he says he will work to get proponents to pay as much of the rail crossing cost as possible. As a last resort, he would work for federal aid on the rail line as a part of upgrading Amtrak service.
Koster too would press the railroad to mitigate the impact of increased traffic, but he adds that federal dollars will probably be necessary to cover some of the costs.
ELECTION NEWS, INFO
Go to bellinghamherald.com/elections for the latest election news and click here for an online voter guide to the Aug. 7 primary. Enter your address to see the contested races you are voting in and compare platforms from the candidates in your districts, including the responses to the questionnaire. You also can share your endorsements on social media.