Rep. John McCoy, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Kim Halvorson, say the November election will probably be decided by just 2 or 3 percentage points.


They are a study in contrasts, these rivals for a 38th District legislative seat.


Rep. John McCoy is slow and deliberate, often pausing a few seconds to answer questions. His flat-top crew cut, circa 1950, illustrates his no-nonsense, pragmatic style.


On the campaign trail in this district that runs from the northern border of the Tulalip Reservation to the southern city limits of Everett, McCoy — a Tulalip Indian and general manager of the tribes’ Quil Ceda Village retail development and casino — pounds the streets in jeans and the same pair of Nike shoes he has worn for his past two elections.


Colleagues who have worked with the two-term Democrat in Olympia refer to his manner as “quiet strength.”


“He gets things done. You’re not going to see John grandstanding,” said Rep. Mike Sells, who holds the other legislative seat in this historically Democratic and blue-collar district.


McCoy’s Republican opponent, small-business owner Kim Halvorson, has been compared, admiringly, to the Energizer Bunny. With an upbeat, outgoing manner, she fires off salvos against her opponent on the region’s worsening traffic and McCoy’s tribal ties at breakfast forums and Chamber of Commerce debates.


At a sign-waving rally in a congested Marysville intersection, Halvorson turns out in pumps and slacks, a stylish red sweater setting off the fifth-generation Norwegian’s blond hair.


Her latest campaign sign, being affixed last weekend to the big 4-by-8 posters she has staked out along the district’s thoroughfares, hits hard at what both candidates see as the top issue on voters’ minds.


“Fix Traffic, Vote Halvorson Today,” the narrow placard says, though at first glance, because of the slightly crowded wording, the sign seems to shout “Fix Traffic Today,” a sentiment on the minds of district commuters stuck in some of the state’s worst congestion.


Observers note that Halvorson has focused her message and become more familiar with the district’s issues since she first ran against McCoy in 2004. The race that year focused largely on property-rights issues that grew out of the exercise of tribal authority over nonnative landowners on the reservation.


Since that election, she has campaigned for and won a seat on the County Charter Commission, where she served as vice chairwoman and persuaded the Democratic majority to support her efforts to provide more public notice and access to County Council meetings and decisions.


“A lot of people were impressed with how she handled herself on the commission,” said Steve Neighbors, outgoing chairman of the Snohomish County Republican Party. “She took a cooperative, nonpartisan approach to issues.”


Politicians of both stripes note that Halvorson faces a tough fight in the 38th. A Republican hasn’t won the legislative seat since the 1960s. But the district is also seeing an influx of young professionals, as well as the sort of ideological blurring that attracted some conservative Democrats into the Dino Rossi and George Bush camps in 2004.


“This is one of the few competitive races in the state,” said Sen. Dave Schmidt, R-Mill Creek. While voters in the 38th District are traditionally Democratic, Schmidt predicted that “if they focus on issues, they’ll find they agree with Kim on a lot.”


At election forums, the candidates have differed on how effective McCoy has been at bringing state transportation dollars to the district. Traffic at 88th Street Northeast in Marysville has grown 420 percent in the past six years, according to a recent study.


Halvorson blames Quil Ceda Village and the Tulalips for building a destination shopping center without widening the area’s roads and bridges first. McCoy counters that the Tulalips put $60 million into road and utility improvements around Quil Ceda Village and have lobbied for state and federal money to widen other Marysville arterials.


He blames residential development in the county, and not one shopping center, for the regionwide congestion.


The two candidates also agree that small businesses can’t afford rising health-care costs for their employees. Both support reducing the business and occupation taxes on small businesses that provide health care for workers. It’s on the issue of reasonable coverage that the two differ.


McCoy, for instance, supported legislation in 2005 that mandated large health plans cover mental-health services to the same degree they cover medical services.


Halvorson opposes additional mandates on business and said that mental-health issues, such as depression, are too “nebulous” to warrant coverage.


“Anything that enacts added regulations or taxes for small businesses, I would oppose,” Halvorson said.


Halvorson frequently calls herself as an “independent,” an effort both to court conservative Democrats and to paint herself in opposition to McCoy, who, she charges, puts the good of the Tulalip Tribes above the 38th District as a whole.


With just days left before the county mailed ballots, neither candidate was taking the election for granted. Saturday, Halvorson and five supporters hit the upscale Shore Avenue neighborhood where Everett touches Mukilteo and Puget Sound. Campaign workers had already identified frequent voters and further noted precincts where Republican Rob McKenna, elected attorney general in 2004, outpolled Halvorson.


“We know these are people who will vote for a Republican if they have a good candidate to choose,” Halvorson said.


About a half-mile up the hill, off Dogwood Drive, McCoy, his wife, Jeannie, and three supporters also knock on the doors of frequent voters. McCoy’s campaign staff has identified precincts where Rep. Sells, a former Everett teacher and union leader, outpolled McCoy.


In this neighborhood of 1960s-era tract houses, McCoy’s message is straightforward: “I am your representative and I’d appreciate your vote.”


Both candidates say the race will come down to these personal contacts, the number of fliers, yard signs and front-porch exchanges that stay in voters minds. Each candidate predicts the race will turn on two or three percentage points.


“It’s going to come down to a chase,” Halvorson said.


Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com