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Updated Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 09:07 AM

Ex-political foes learn to work together in D.C.

By Kyung M. Song
Seattle Times Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — Regardless of whether Suzan DelBene or John Koster wins the 1st Congressional District seat Tuesday, both would walk into a not-uncommon situation on Capitol Hill — working alongside a former political foe.

For DelBene, a Democrat, that would be Republican Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn, whom she failed to unseat during her maiden run for the House two years ago. For Republican Koster, it's Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen, his two-time opponent.

And if Denny Heck wins the newly created 10th District seat stretching from Puyallup to Yelm, he would become colleagues with the woman who denied him entry to Congress in 2010: freshman Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.

All of which may make for awkward reunions. But politicians are used to it.

When former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee was running for re-election in 1994, for instance, he claimed his challenger Doc Hastings got his first name by earning "a doctorate in distortion from the University of Dirty Politics."

Hastings won Inslee's seat in Central Washington, but Inslee moved to Bainbridge Island and ran successfully for the House four years later.

In more than a decade as colleagues since then, Inslee and Hastings never came to fisticuffs (that we know of).

Barbara Sinclair, emeritus professor of American politics at the University of California, Los Angeles, said such civility — feigned or otherwise — is a must in a town where lawmakers morph into lobbyists and a bitter rival becomes the Big Boss (see Hillary Rodham Clinton).

"They probably don't become best buddies, but maintaining a reasonable working relationship doesn't seem all that hard," Sinclair said.

Which is not to say former foes will necessarily be welcomed with open arms.

Larsen and Koster, in particular, seem to hold each other in mutual disregard. The two faced off for the first time in 2000 for the 2nd District seat. Larsen hammered Koster for referring to abortion as "our American Holocaust." For their part, Republicans derided Larsen as a dental lobbyist seeking to become a congressman.

By the time of their rematch in 2010, Koster was describing Larsen as "barely cordial" when the two met for a debate.

Asked what, if anything, Larsen would do to break the ice if Koster were to arrive in Congress, Larsen's campaign spokesman Bryan Thomas said Larsen was busy working to get out the votes.

"If Mr. Koster does end up winning in the 1st District, I'm sure Rick would be happy to talk to you then about how he works across the aisle," Thomas said.

If DelBene wins, she presumably can expect a warmer reception from Reichert. During the campaign in 2010 for Reichert's 8th District seat, DelBene tried to depict his opposition to abortion and his vote against pay-parity legislation as anti-women.

Through his spokeswoman, Reichert said he looked forward to working with anyone elected to serve and that "it's imperative that we are all able to put the good of the state and the American people ahead of party ideology."

The 2010 contest between Heck and Herrera Beutler never got overtly personal. Heck, a veteran fixture in Democratic politics and co-founder of the public-service television station TVW, was beaten by the relative upstart Herrera Beutler to fill retiring Rep. Brian Baird's 3rd District seat.

Heck decided to run in the newly drawn 10th District. If he prevails over Republican Dick Muri, Herrera Beutler has made it clear she harbors no hard feelings.

"She actually saw Denny at a recent event and made a point of going over to greet him," said her spokesman, Casey Bowman. "Jaime told him she wants them to have a productive relationship if he's elected."

Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or ksong@seattletimes.com


BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Suzan DelBene, Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional District, campaigns along Main Street in Monroe at the Fair Days Parade in late August.




DAN BATES / AP
In this Aug. 7 photo, Republican John Koster is surrounded by supporters at a gathering in south Everett, Wash., as he celebrates early reports of an overwhelming lead in the primary election.




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