Posted by: sweeneyblog | February 18, 2012

First Brush with the 1st Congressional Candidates

Four of the six Democratic candidates running for the new 1st Congressional seat stopped by and gave stump speeches for the Whatcom Democrats last Thursday. It was an interesting mix, and I thought I would share my impressions. Now if you are reading this and going, “Wait-a-minute, isn’t Rick Larsen our congressman?” then I suggest you stop by my earlier post “The Redistricting Commission has maps and they are weird

First of all, as someone passionate about seeing more women in public office, I was simply delighted to see that there were three strong female candidates on that stage. It continues Washington’s good name (Murray, Cantwell, Gregoire) as a place where women are welcome and encouraged succeed at politics. As Hillary Clinton once said, “Talent is universal, opportunity is not.”

UPDATE: Check out the video of the candidates here

Darcy Burner

But on to the candidates. First up? Darcy Burner. She started off the group, and with good reason. Early polls show that she has strong name recognition, and voters have a generally positive impression of the former Microsoft executive remade progressive netroots champion.

Her pitch was pretty simple. “How many people believe that Congress is working the way it should?” After the scornful laughter died down, she followed it up with this, “How many of you believe the problem with Congress is that Democrats compromise too much?” No one raised their hands. Darcy aims at going to Congress, not just to be a reliable progressive vote (indeed she did some work for the Progressive Caucus after her first pass at Dave Reichart), but rather to confront the structural challenges of Congress that slant the table against Democrats. She brought up how before Newt Gingrich took over Congress in 1994, Representatives used to be able to pool their resources to create internal think tanks and hire experts to craft policy. Since Newt forbid that, they have to rely on lobbyists and whatever friendly non-profits can scrap together.

“Democrats think that if we have better policies and we talk about them better then we will win, but we are attacking a brick wall with water balloons. We need to fix the right problem.”

Overall, Darcy was lively, sharp and geek chic. Her light voice jumping through the topics with precision, gaining several applause lines as she worked the audience into involvement.

Suzan Delbene

Next up, and providing a very strong contrast, was Suzan Delbene. “If you move your hands while you say my name, it comes out right. It’s Italian.” Delbene did a quick run-through of her resume. Former Microsoft executive, entrepreneur, specializing in micro-finance, lost against Dave Reichert in a republican year (2010) and then was appointed head of the State Department of Revenue. She cited her business background as her ability to attract independent voters which will be key in this new swing district, and declared that she is ready to “fight for the middle class.”

She used the last couple of minutes of her time to take a few questions, and I asked her about when she was running against Reichert in 2009, she only supported civil unions (see this Seattle Times article here) but, in the wake of the same-sex marriage bill passing, she sent out a fundraising letter toting her support for full marriage equality. So I asked her, what changed? She said that nothing changed, “I have always supported marriage equality, I might not have used the preferred term but I have always supported it.” Yet, her quote in the Seattle Times says differently. Hmmm.

Her laid back and laconic speech didn’t inspire any applause lines, but it was definitely a contrast from the precision of Darcy Burner.

Darshan Rauniyar

After Delbene spoke, it was time for Darshan Rauniyar. He spoke of coming to “America, the land of opportunity, 2o years ago and falling in love with the Pacific Northwest.”

“20 years ago, we were a manufacturing hub, and look today, now we have none. We are the richest country in the world, yet we have 20 million out of work.” He cited his experience as a business owner. “I want to stand next to John Koster and ask him, ‘How many jobs have you created, hmm?'”

He toted his outsider status, “I am not a career politician, and Washington needs that perspective. Be part of this paradigm shift.”

Drawing on international examples, he pointed out that our educational system is trailing behind Spain and Turkey. “We need to fully fund education, and provide accessible health care to those that need it.” But don’t think for a moment that he is a Progressive. He pointed out that he would caucus with the New Democrats in Congress, and bring the perspective a business man to his votes.

Laura Ruderman

Last, but certainly not least, Laura Ruderman took the stage. I’ll have to be honest, she was the candidate I knew the least about, and was the most impressed by her stump speech. She started off diving right into the red meat. “I am also a Democrat. I’m running for one simple thing, if you are willing to show up every day and work hard, you should be paid a living wage, you should be able to take a day off if you are sick, and that security should follow you into retirement.”

Her main point, which she mentioned more than a couple times, is her ability to win. She won a state legislative seat (the 45th LD) in 1998, not a particularly strong year for Democrats, against an incumbent Republican in a district that usually votes 42% Dem. And she held the district for several elections.

She, more than any of the other candidates that night, aimed her fire squarely at the Republicans. “I am running to make sure that no one ever has to write a letter or make a phone call to Congressman Koster.” Citing the recent all-male panelthe House Republicans summoned to discuss birth control, Ruderman quipped, “Let’s have an all-women panel to cut funding to prostate cancer screening.” She also took a swing at the “mushy-middle of the road Democrats” saying her support for Marriage equality did not have to “evolve”.

Conclusion: Setting aside the money race, and the candidates I didn’t get a chance to see, this is a two woman race between Laura Ruderman, who was rocking her quirky soccer mom vibe, and Darcy Burner, bringing her hip wonky approach to changing the system. Delbene, aside from my back and forth with her, didn’t seem to connect with the Whatcom crowd. Rauniyar would be an impressive candidate in a less crowded field, but is getting drowned out by the the Burner/Ruderman powerhouses.

Tomorrow: A write-up of the Buys, Overstreet and Ericksen town hall in Lynden.



  1. I like Delbene, but I’m cautious about her being ready to “fight for the middle class” given a family income that puts them well into the 1% class. However, this will make her well funded, which will likely be the deciding factor in who survives the primary…

    Off to the town hall meeting to see what our reps in the 42nd hope to cut to balance the budget…

  2. I agree with you that the contest will be between Burner and Ruderman. Both have been in the political arena and, for me, they “show” as true progressives. And this came out when they were asked which caucus they would be joining when/if elected. They both said the Progressive Caucus. The other two said New Democrats Caucus, which is somewhat (or maybe alot?) more moderate/middle ground. Anyway, the bottom line is we must have a candidate who will beat Koster! He is already the “chosen one” for the Repubs, and has those big signs out already.

  3. I am incredibly anxious about Darcy getting through the primary. She lost consecutively in 2006 and 2008 (running 10 points behind Obama) in years where we were wildly successful throughout the country…Delbene coming closer to beating Reichart in 2010 (in a year Dems were massacred across the country) is a HUGE red flag when it comes to Burner for me.

  4. For me, it would take a LOT to offset the fact that Ruderman has a super solid track record when it comes to defeating Republicans in a district like the 1st. Dislodging an incumbent R in the WA 45th district and then getting re-elected twice is significant, and relevant here. She always runs a smart, savvy campaign, and she also has the advantage of actual legislative experience. We cannot afford anything else but a victory here, and the other candidates are too risky of a bet to take in what promises to be a challenging race.

  5. I’m always a bit suspicious of the – Vote me, I’m an outsider! ploy in campaigning.
    For one thing, a personal private sector tale of success is meaningless in the public realm and for another,
    a Representative is an administrator if nothing else
    where experience in the Big Picture is intensely desirable.
    Congress is filled with millionaires so obviously monetary prowess is the least of the attributes needed there.
    Darcy Burner for her good showings ideologically against The Sheriff Dave.
    Also she looks just my my sister whom I adore.

  6. Burner is the real deal. All I know about Delbene is that she’s rich and probably will put another chunk of money into a losing bid.

    Burner ran great campaigns last time against a really popular dude. She’ll run the same awesome kind of campaign this time.

    And who is Laura Ruderman?

  7. Let’s not forget that when Laura ran for State office, she got crushed. She’s actually the only candidate that has run in every part of the 1st, and she lost every LD, including her own.

  8. Ruderman was running against a popular incumbent moderate Secretary of State who no one had any real issue with, and still got 45% of the vote, to Reed’s 51%, hardly “crushed” given the context.

    I would be very cautious trying to apply the dynamics of that race to the current race in the 1st District; the situation (and Republican opponent) is markedly different. In my opinion it’s far more relevant to look at the 45th district campaigns, where she won every time she ran.

  9. I don’t think it is fair to hold loosing to Reichart against anyone, that District has NEVER elected a Democrat. Running for State Rep, and running for Congress are VERY different beasts. Success in the former, is no indication of success in the later.

    Now having said that, I don’t see anything special about Del Bene at all, she’s not a progressive, and I am suspicious of anyone worth 100 million dollars, saying they want to fight for me. What does she bring to the table other than a checkbook?

  10. […] of interviews I’m doing with candidates for the 1st Congressional district.You can read my first impressions of these candidates here. I will gladly interview any candidate running for office this year, so if you would like an […]

  11. […] of interviews I’m doing with candidates for the 1st Congressional district. You can read my first impressions of these candidates here and my interview with Laura Ruderman here. I will gladly interview any candidate running for […]

  12. […] of interviews I’m doing with candidates for the 1st Congressional district. You can read my first impressions of these candidates here and my interview with Laura Ruderman here and Roger Goodman here. I will gladly interview any […]

  13. […] what happened at our last meeting, I asked about marriage equality and Delbene reiterated her support. “I support marriage […]

  14. […] of interviews I’m doing with candidates for the 1st Congressional district. You can read my first impressions of these candidates as well my interviews with Laura Ruderman, Roger Goodman, Darshan Rauniyar, and Suzan […]

  15. […] of interviews I’m doing with candidates for the 1st Congressional district. You can read my first impressions of these candidates, as well my interviews with Laura Ruderman, Roger Goodman, Darshan Rauniyar, Suzan Delbene and […]

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