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Polls predicted the top-two primary race in the 1st Congressional District would produce a general election contest between Republican John Koster and … someone else. Suzan DelBene is the leading Democrat.

As a practical matter, there is a third contender vying for an upset: geography. The redrawn 1st loops south into King County and runs straight north to the top of the state. Both candidates will campaign among voters outside their political comfort zones.

The separate, odd election to fill the old 1st District seat for a month is trending to Koster.

He is a socially conservative Republican from Arlington in the north, who has a demonstrated practical streak on the Snohomish County Council. He has run and lost for Congress twice before.

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Democrat DelBene of Medina in the south would carry a progressive message with a big audience in Puget Sound to the rural recesses of Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

Both candidates cannot expect to charm their respective ends of the political spectrum and be victorious in November. The fall campaign is not about compromising strongly held values, but revealing a capacity for moderation and independence.

Americans grow ever angrier with the fractious partisan gridlock in Congress. The winner of a debate about who will budge less from their party’s status quo will surely lose with voters.

Fiscal responsibility is a basic theme, but that does not translate to mindless deadlines and automatic budget cuts. The job is about making tough choices, and negotiating significant reforms.

Ending the war in Afghanistan is a priority. So are tighter financial regulations that give borrowers and investors the transparency they deserve.

Koster and DelBene must rethink their messages. Campaigning on partisan autopilot will not work in the redrawn 1st District.

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