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Republican John Koster Focuses On Economy To Woo Moderates

John Koster
(KUOW photo/Deborah Wang)

If Republican congressional candidate John Koster has a signature campaign issue, it’s the country’s ballooning national debt.

The website for his 1st Congressional District campaign features a national debt clock ticking away. The total now stands at more than $16 trillion.

“I think one of the greatest things that we could do for our constituents and our future generations is not hamstring them with huge debt and huge deficits that they will have to pay off,” he said.

In his two decades in politics, Koster has been a staunch advocate of limited government.

He favors rolling back government regulations and lowering taxes. He opposes most of the major federal programs that were put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis: the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the auto industry bailout, the stimulus, and the Affordable Care Act. In past campaigns, he has called for the outright elimination of both the Department of Education and the IRS.

For Koster, the belief in limited government is what sets him apart from his opponent, Suzan DelBene.

“I don’t know Suzan very well, she is probably a fine person,” said Koster. “But she will continue to support the policies of this administration. They are progressive, they are liberal, I think they are the wrong direction for this country. They are two very, very different visions for America, and that is what this election cycle is all about.”

Koster’s social conservatism

Koster is from the Snohomish County town of Arlington. He and his wife raised four kids on the family dairy farm.

In 1994, Koster was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives, and served in the legislature for the next six years. During that time he co-founded the Conservative Caucus.

After an unsuccessful run for Congress, Koster was elected to the Snohomish County Council, and is now serving his third term, where he is the lone Republican.

Koster’s website boasts that he has a “100 percent pro-life voting record.” He opposes abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest. “It is the express job of government to protect all innocent human life,” his website states.

Democrats have seized on Koster’s positions on reproductive issues, and have highlighted them in two TV ads. One, by the national group House Majority PAC, shows images of a smiling Koster intercut with faces of anxious-looking women. “Tea Party politicians like John Koster support an agenda so radical, it’s hard to believe,” intones the female narrator. “All women need to know about John Koster and the Tea Party is that we can’t go back.”

Koster is also an opponent of same-sex marriage. In 1998, while he served in the state legislature, Koster co-sponsored the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

In a 2008 interview with Dr. Jonathan Hansen, the head of Stanwood-based World Ministries, Koster referenced "the homosexual agenda" and said "it just keeps moving and moving, and they push and they push." He complained that while he was fighting for the Defense of Marriage Act in Olympia, he didn’t receive the support he expected from other Christians.

“We had some of the so-called pastors down there calling those of us who had signed on to the legislation, who were working the legislation, ‘hatemongers,’” Koster told Hansen in the interview for "Warning TV." “You look around behind you and you say…where are the pastors who are saying, 'the Biblical world view, or the scripture, says homosexuality is sin?'”

How will that play with moderates?

Washington State Republican Party Chair Kirby Wilbur acknowledges Koster is probably more conservative than the average voter on these issues, since Washington voters tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

But because Koster is a known quantity in the towns and suburbs that make up the 1st District, some will support him even if they disagree with his views on social issues, according to Wilbur.

“We may not agree with him, but we know where he stands; he doesn’t waffle,” Wilbur said, in describing how some voters view Koster. “So many politicians are in that kind of grey area out there. They go with the wind; they stick up their finger and see there the wind is blowing. John doesn’t do that.”

For his part, Koster says he has always enjoyed support from independents, as well as moderate and conservative Democrats. He says he doubts that he would have been able to win election six times without some crossover appeal.

“I just am who I am,” he said. “These are my own personal beliefs, and you know what, I am an American. I am as entitled to my personal beliefs just as much as they are.”

But, Koster said, if voters agree with him 80 to 90 percent of the time, “then they should vote for me.”

Supporters say it's the deficit

At a recent campaign event, we asked a sample of Koster’s supporters what issues were most important to them in this election. No one mentioned social issues.

Most said they were concerned with the country’s mounting debt, and with government spending that they said was out of control.

“It’s the deficits, and the spending,” explained Andrew Wold, who attended the event in Carnation with his wife. “I think (Koster) is the one that can help get that under control, where the progressives cannot -- will not.”

Most of the people we spoke with identified themselves as Republican or conservative, and some said they were supporters of the Tea Party.

But there were a few who didn’t fit that mold.

Jim Del Ciello is a former staff member for the Snohomish County Council who describes his politics as “to the middle or to the left of the spectrum.” Although he doesn’t live in the 1st District, he came to Koster's rally because he believes Koster has been an exceptional elected official.

“He’s just a wonderful person to work for, and he was great to his staff. He gave really good direction,” said Del Ciello. “And even though he may not have agreed with how you felt about a given issue, he was always willing to give you the benefit of the doubt because he always respected your opinion as well.”

Both Koster and his Democratic opponent Suzan DelBene are fighting for those crucial swing voters. The new 1st District has been described as one of the most evenly divided in the country. The election is likely to be a close one. A King 5/Survey USA poll from mid-September showed Koster with an advantage of four points  -- less than the poll’s margin of error.

Year started with KUOW: 2005