Two congressional races in the same district at the same time? The special election called to fill former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee's term is sowing confusion.

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If the scrum of candidates for the vacant 1st Congressional District seat agree on one thing, it’s that the election is already a mess.

Gov. Chris Gregoire this week called a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, with a top-two primary in August and a general election in November. The winner of the special election would serve just a month before the new Congress is sworn in Jan. 3.

But also on the August primary and November general-election ballots will be a regular congressional election for the 1st District. Six Democrats, one Republican and one independent already are running for that two-year term.

What’s worse, the boundaries for the special and regular elections differ because of redistricting. The special election will be held in the current 1st District, while the regular election will run in the newly drawn 1st District.

Both Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz and state GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur have one word for this scenario: confusing.

Gregoire originally hadn’t planned to call a special election to replace Inslee, who resigned last month to run for governor full time.

But on March 21, the general counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a memo saying Washington had a constitutional duty to fill the seat this year, even if just for a month, and backed it up with a series of previous court decisions.

Pelz and Wilbur agree the simplest solution may be to find a consensus candidate — perhaps a retired elected official with statesman credentials — to run for the last month of Inslee’s term, allowing the other candidates to focus on the race in the new 1st District.

“We will be encouraging candidates in the new 1st District to only file in the new 1st,” Pelz said.

Said Wilbur: “A caretaker would make the most sense. We may decide that’s what we would do.”

But finding a consensus candidate may be difficult. Democrats don’t want to give up a seat — even briefly — that’s been held by their party since Inslee first won there in 1998. And the GOP might be reluctant to agree to a Democratic caretaker, with potentially big issues facing Congress in December.

A lame-duck Congress is likely to face proposals to raise the debt ceiling, wrap up the federal budget and consider alternatives to defense cuts mandated by last year’s debt-ceiling deal. And Washington’s congressional delegation may still be pushing for legislation that allows taxpayers to deduct state sales taxes from their federal returns.

Although the general election is Nov. 6, Inslee’s temporary replacement can’t take office until the vote is certified, which could be as late as Dec. 6.

The current 1st District stretches east to west from Woodinville to Poulsbo across suburbs north of Seattle. The boundaries for the new 1st District, which go into effect when the new Congress is sworn in, go north from Highway 520’s high-tech corridor to the Canada border.

Just 40 percent of the current 1st District is in the new district. That means thousands of voters will pick a temporary 1st District representative even as they elect lawmakers from their new congressional districts.

Candidates who chose to run in both the current and new 1st would have to run separate campaigns. That would allow donors to give the maximum of $2,500 per election, potentially doubling the candidates’ fundraising haul. But the campaigns would have to maintain separate fundraising books and disclosure filings, said Katie Blinn, co-director of elections for the Washington secretary of state.

That complication is not very appealing, said Larry Stickney, campaign manager for Snohomish County Commissioner John Koster, the only Republican in the new 1st District race.

“We’re still scratching our heads about whether John would even get into it,” he said of the special election.

Most of the six Democrats also aren’t sure what they’ll do.

Campaigns for Suzan DelBene, former head of the state Department of Revenue; Darcy Burner, a two-time candidate in the 8th Congressional District; Laura Ruderman, a former state representative; and state Rep. Roger Goodman all said they hadn’t decided whether to enter the special election.

State Sen. Steve Hobbs’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Goodman said he “absolutely” supported the proposal for a consensus candidate in the special election, partly out of concern that a crowded field in that race could enable Koster to represent the current 1st District, even briefly.

DelBene spokesman Viet Shelton said his candidate is focused on the new 1st District, adding the campaign has until the May 18 filing deadline to decide what to do.

“We’re going to take inventory about what this means for the overall race,” he said.

Democrat Darshan Rauniyar, a businessman and political newcomer, said he will run in both the special election and the new 1st District race. He said he was checking with the Federal Election Commission about fundraising and disclosure requirements.

Blinn said the counties could bill the state for the $770,000 in estimated cost to run the special election.

Had Inslee resigned before March 6, state law would have required a special election to be run earlier, perhaps this summer. That would have added significantly to the costs, but also would have assured current 1st District voters longer representation.

By resigning after March 6, Inslee assured that the special election would be simultaneous with the general election.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jmartin206.