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June 6, 2012 at 5:33 PM

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Can Suzan DelBene close the gap with 1st District voters?

Some heavyweights in Washington's Democratic establishment really want Suzan DelBene to be the party's nominee for the 1st Congressional District.

Why don't voters seem as enthusiastic?

Gov. Chris Gregoire announced today a fundraiser next Wednesday for DelBene, whom she's already endorsed. Rep. Ross Hunter, the Medina Democrat who chairs the House budget-writing committee, also endorsed her Wednesday, joining U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, the state Labor Council and the state teachers' union, the Washington Education Association.

But DelBene is bumping along near the bottom of the most recent poll, tied for fourth in the seven-way scrum for the redrawn 1st District. She has an impressive business resume, a personal fortune. She spent $4 million in 2010 against Rep. Dave Reichert.

DelBene is not lacking in fundraising again, and is likely to outspend her five Democratic opponents. She apparently hasn't bought air time yet, but KING-5 sales director Jim Rose said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee just booked about $1 million in air time before the November general election. The candidate and race weren't specified.

DelBene spokesman Viet Shelton said the campaign was ramping up its ground game, bringing in field organizers and organizing tele-town hall events. Early polls simply reflect name recognition, and Darcy Burner, who led Democrats in the recent 1st District poll, benefits from campaigns against Reichert in 2006 and 2008.

"I truly think you're going to see a shift" in the polls, Shelton said. "There's not been much voter contact yet."

Her campaign strategy emphasizes an up-from-the-bootstraps story: an itinerant childhood as her dad, an airline pilot, struggled to find work; putting herself through college; then rising to become a Microsoft vice-president. DelBene is smart and good one-on-one, but lacks a dynamic presence in a crowd.

Her low-profile campaign thus far mirrors her 2010 campaign, when she waited until after the August primary to introduce herself to voters. Matt Barreto, University of Washington political science professor and director of The Washington Poll, calls that "one of the worst managed campaigns I've ever seen."

That campaign was the time for DelBene to make her self into a "household name" as Burner did in her campaigns against Reichert. Voters have to not only know your back story - they also have to like you, Barreto said.

"People won't vote for you if they can't make a connection with you," he said. "I've always been troubled by DelBene's ability to catch hold."

Ballots for the primary election will be mailed July 20. It will be interesting to see if DelBene closes the gap between establishment enthusiasm and voter name recognition in the next six weeks.

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