Courage is an issue worked by both Republican challenger Doug Roulstone and Democratic incumbent Rick Larsen.

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Courage for Congress. Simple yet catchy, as political slogans go.

When Doug Roulstone filed for office 19 months ago, targeting the seat held since 2001 by Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, it was an obvious choice. Roulstone served 27 years in the U.S. Navy, working his way up from helicopter search-and-rescue pilot to commander of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

District 2, which runs from Everett, Mukilteo and the Highway 2 corridor north to the Canadian border, includes two major Navy bases and is home to an estimated 75,000 to 80,000 veterans.

Now Larsen has turned that motto against his Republican challenger, joining a national trend of Democratic congressional candidates who are tapping into the emotionally charged issue of embryonic stem-cell research.

Over the past two weeks, Larsen’s campaign has sent out several glossy, multipage mailers — depicting somber little girls, anguished white-haired women and dejected men in wheelchairs — attacking Roulstone’s stance on the issue and accusing him of putting “politics ahead of science.”

“Doug Roulstone talks a lot about ‘courage’ in his advertising,” one reads. “But what kind of courage is shown by blindly marching in lock step with George W. Bush and denying hope to those who are suffering?”

U.S. Representative, District 2

Rick Larsen

Party: Democrat

Personal: 41; Everett resident; married; two young sons

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, Pacific Lutheran University; master’s degree in public affairs, University of Minnesota

Experience: U.S. Congress, 2001-present; Snohomish County Council, 1998-2000; former public-affairs director and lobbyist for Washington State Dental Association

Web site:

Doug Roulstone

Party: Republican

Personal: 56; lives in Snohomish area; married; two sons in college

Education: Bachelor’s degree in oceanography, U.S. Naval Academy; master’s degree in systems technology, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif.

Experience:Served 27 years in U.S. Navy (search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, commander of combat squadron in Gulf War, commanding officer of supply ship USS Supply and aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis); co-owner of business that designs and manufactures aerospace parts; founded Snohomish Lacrosse Club; active with Snohomish Education Foundation; created Machinery Pathway Partnership at Snohomish High

Web site:

Roulstone says he’s sickened by the ads, which he considers unethical and dishonest for their blanket — and inaccurate — declarations that he “opposes stem-cell research.” He says he has repeatedly spoken in support of other forms of stem-cell work that don’t require the destruction of a fetus, which he considers a life.

“He makes it look like I’m trying to kill kids. To me, this is the lowest level we can go in politics,” said Roulstone, 56, who moved his family to Snohomish in 1999 when he left the Navy. “My father suffers from Parkinson’s, and my father-in-law died from diabetes. I wouldn’t be against stem-cell research.”

The issue made national headlines last week as television spots featuring actor Michael J. Fox, swaying due to ravages of his Parkinson’s disease, hit the airwaves in Democratic campaigns for tight U.S. Senate races in Maryland and Missouri.

The issue has split the Republican Party. President Bush, whose position Roulstone supports, in July vetoed a bill that would have loosened restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, which scientists hope could yield treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, spinal-cord injuries and other afflictions.

Larsen is unapologetic about his ads.

“This mailer does nothing to distort anyone’s issues,” said Larsen, 41. “My opponent has said he wants the campaign to be about choices and issues, and here is an issue on which we differ. He may not like his own position and doesn’t want to defend it.”

Taking credit

Roulstone’s campaign “has been twisting and turning my record on veterans and military bases and illegal immigration,” Larsen added. “I don’t think that twisting and turning my record is the moral equivalent of comparing positions on issues.”

Both men take credit for saving local military bases during last year’s deliberations of the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Roulstone wrote the military assessment for Naval Station Everett and twice flew to Washington, D.C., to defend it at the Pentagon. Larsen helped arrange those meetings, which he didn’t attend.

Both also take responsibility for obtaining a planned new veterans outpatient clinic, expected to be located in north Snohomish County or Skagit County. Now, the closest full-service clinic is in Seattle.

“I have been going at this for the last 4-½ years,” Larsen said, starting with a 2002 bill that created a one-day-a-week clinic in Whatcom County.

Larsen said his hard work on behalf of veterans is reflected in his endorsement by the Veterans of Foreign Wars political-action committee.

Roulstone says he secured the clinic through his own personal connections within the Pentagon and his understanding of military issues.

Larsen voted against the 2002 resolution giving President Bush authority to invade Iraq, but since then he has supported bills to support the military mission. Larsen says he wants to “make sure they [American forces] have the resources they need while we figure out how to get them home.”

Paralleling the president

Roulstone, who served in the Gulf War, is convinced American troops need to remain in Iraq until the trial of Saddam Hussein ends.

Roulstone, a conservative Republican, has views that parallel many of the president’s. His principal campaign issues include establishing English as the nation’s official language, stemming the flow of illegal immigrants entering from Mexico, maintaining tax cuts and balancing the federal budget.

Vice President Dick Cheney, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Speaker Newt Gingrich each made a trip to the district for Roulstone fundraisers.

Larsen, a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition in the House, considers himself an independent who sometimes breaks from his party.

As co-chair of the House Meth Caucus, he helped put together a bipartisan bill — added to the Patriot Act, signed in March by Bush — making it more difficult for methamphetamine cooks to obtain in bulk many over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine. It also made it easier for police agencies to track ingredient sales, and increased criminal penalties for smuggling and selling meth.

Larsen also is proud of a bill he sponsored to protect mail-order brides, in response to the 2000 murder of UW student and Russian mail-order bride Anastasia King. Portions of the measure, first introduced in 2003 by Larsen and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, were incorporated into the Violence Against Women Act signed by Bush in January.

Roulstone considers Larsen vulnerable, despite polls to the contrary. In 2000 and 2002, in elections that featured Republicans as well as third-party candidates, Larsen took only 50 percent of the vote. Although Larsen fared better in 2004, taking 64 percent, his Republican opponent wasn’t considered a serious candidate. Suzanne Sinclair raised only $36,000 compared with Larsen’s $1.4 million.

For this campaign, Larsen had raised $1.3 million as of Sept. 30, while Roulstone had collected about $650,000.

Roulstone seems upbeat about his latest poll data, which showed that 54 percent of voters preferred Larsen and 34 percent would vote for Roulstone. The number of people who don’t know who Roulstone is had dropped to 47 percent, down from 71 percent in July. He said that it appears that when people actually learn who Roulstone is, he has a 75 percent chance of getting their vote.

Over the past five congressional elections, 2.7 percent of challengers have beaten incumbents, he said.

“When I was a lieutenant [in the late 1970s], I asked an admiral when a helicopter pilot would ever command an air wing or an aircraft carrier,” Roulstone said. “His answer was ‘never.’ So 2.7 is a huge number compared with zero.”

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or