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Larsen campaign is low-key affair

Rep. Rick Larsen says he's not paying much attention to the competition these days.

In Langley last week for a lunch stop between several morning events in Coupeville and an afternoon meeting in Oak Harbor, the freshman Democrat said that even with a three-way race forming among potential Republican challengers, he has given little thought to campaigning for another two years in Congress.

At this point, why would he? Far ahead of any opponents in terms of campaign fund-raising and still months away from September's primary election, Larsen said he is giving all his time to his work in the nation's capital and in Washington's 10th Congressional District.

"My job is to do my job," he said.

Over a health nut burger at the Dog House, Larsen mostly avoided the subject of the coming campaign season. Though he will not make an official announcement regarding his re-election until May, he is running, this time against one of three Republicans -- Clinton's Norma Smith, Langley's Kelly Barlean or Friday Harbor's Herb Meyer. But unlike in 2000, when his focus was to beat Oak Harbor's Barry Sehlin for the then-empty Congressional seat, Larsen said he has only the issues on his mind this election cycle.

Caught up perhaps even more personally than most in the events following Sept. 11 when anthrax mailings to his Washington, D.C., office building forced him and other members of Congress to relocate, Larsen's list of issues is topped by naturals such as airline security, increased security at the Canadian border and keeping Oak Harbor's naval air station open and viable.

During the last session of Congress, which ended in December, he requested and received $14 million in construction funds for the base. Yesterday, his office received word that a $35 million request to pay for updating the base's Prowler aircraft got the OK. He said the planes and personnel stationed at the base are critical in the nation's "war on terrorism" -- a conflict he refers to with regularity in conversation.

A supporter of that undeclared war, Larsen said he, like the rest of the Congress, have supported President George W. Bush in terms of providing funds and moral backing for military incursions into Afghanistan and the Philippines. Responding to a question about whether Congress has allowed the president too much freedom in pursuing this military action -- which has been criticized for producing large numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan -- Larsen said he and the nation's other legislators believe the president is exercising only as much power as he is allowed under the nation's War Powers Act.

"Sept. 11 changed a lot of things, but it didn't change the Constitution," Larsen said.

While attention to security issues has taken up a good deal of time during the past seven months, Larsen said he hasn't forgotten other issues in his district. A member of the House's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he said he wants to send more transportation funds to Washington this year. While Congress has little control over exactly how those funds are spent once they go to the states, he said he does not want to see it all go to roads.

"We need a mix of transit, trains and roads," he said.

Larsen said the most important aspect of the upcoming campaign is getting back to the nation's capital to continue work on a number of issues, including transportation, Medicare and defense. At present, campaign funding statistics kept by the Federal Election Commissioner shows that Larsen has a sizeable financial lead going into the election season. His $576,984 in campaign fundraising at the last FEC report is more than 10 times that of his nearest competitor, Norma Smith.

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