It's Big. It's Confusing. And It's Anybody's Race.

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WOODINVILLE, Wash. -- The big news is what did not happen here. In the politics of redrawing the map of Congressional districts after the 2010 census, boring and predictable lost the battle and fled the field. The result, politicians and academics say, is one of the most unusual corners in the nation heading toward Election Day.

It starts with the old-fashioned concept of fairness. The new First District, stretching from the suburbs of Seattle to the Canadian border -- and redrawn when the state was allotted a new Congressional seat -- was constructed, many Democrats and Republicans say, with an exacting bipartisan balance. This was at least in part because there was no incumbent for either party to worry over.

The 6,600-square-mile district, just smaller than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, includes Microsoft code-heads and vineyard owners to the south, Boeing workers and raspberry farmers up north. What might have become just another gerrymandered fief was instead born competitive.

And weird.

Many voters in part of the district, for example, will get to vote not just once on Election Day, but twice, for their next member of Congress. The first time, for everyone in the district, is regular vanilla: a two-year term that starts next January. That is a tight contest between a Republican, John Koster, and a Democrat, Suzan DelBene.

The second election, to fill a one-month vacancy in the seat before the next Congress starts, is only for voters living in the First District as it existed before the redrawn boundaries. The district then, which stretched over the north end of Seattle -- and east and west on each side, like earmuffs -- was heavily Democratic, which means that Ms. DelBene, a former Microsoft executive and state revenue official, is favored to win at least that race over Mr. Koster, a county councilman and former dairy farmer.

If the same candidate wins both contests, he or she would take office in the 113th Congress in January with a seniority edge over other incoming freshmen -- slight but significant from that one extra month, and enough in the pecking order to make a possible difference in committee assignments. About 48 percent of the people in the newly drawn First District were in the old one.

"It's confusing, but I would agree it's balanced," said David A. Rudy, a work force training director who lives in the new First District but was not in the old one. Mr. Rudy, therefore, gets only one vote, for the regular two-year term, and says he supports Mr. Koster.

In general, residents and politicians say the new district conforms to the pattern of politics in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon, where liberal cities on the coast dominate the demographic and electoral landscape with a gradual shift toward more conservative, Republican terrain to the east. In the First District, the closer one gets to Seattle, the more Democrats there are.

Washington's two senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, are both Democrats. But the Congressional delegation is mixed, with four Democrats, four Republicans, and two open seats -- the one in the First District and the other in the newly created 10th District

As to what the new First District might become, politicians and residents are looking at the tea leaves of its past components.

If the district had existed in the 2008 election, according to an analysis by staff members at the Washington secretary of state's office looking back at voting results, Barack Obama would have won the district, but Washington's governor, Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, would have narrowly lost it. Ms. Murray would also have lost in the district in 2010 while winning statewide, according to the analysis.

Consider voters like Steven Franz and Rick Chatterton. They are a gay couple living here in the town of Woodinville in the district's southwest corner, not far from Seattle. In their front yard they have a huge sign declaring their support for Referendum 74, a ballot proposal that would confirm same-sex marriage rights in Washington.

On other matters, though, Mr. Franz and Mr. Chatterton are likely to split their votes. And since they live in a corner of what had been the old First District, that adds up to four votes for Congress between them.

Mr. Chatterton is a Republican who said he leaned toward -- though was not fully committed to -- giving his two votes to Mr. Koster, along with voting a straight Republican ticket. Mr. Franz is a registered Democrat, but said he had still not committed either of his votes.

Where they are on the same page, though, and are trying to influence other people in their community is in supporting same-sex marriage. They have been knocking on doors, asking neighbors to post signs and making phone calls.

"This is a pretty historic moment," Mr. Franz said.

Washington as a whole is considered solidly in the Democratic column in the presidential vote this year. But the First District is only leaning Democratic in the House race, according to a political analysis by The New York Times. And the governor's race, between the Democrat, Jay Inslee, who represented the First District in Congress under the old boundaries until this year, and the Republican, Rob McKenna, the state attorney general, is one of the tightest in the nation.

Mr. Inslee had an advantage of three percentage points over Mr. McKenna among registered voters -- 44 percent to 41 percent, according to an Elway Poll of 405 voters conducted from Sept. 9 to Sept. 12. The difference is within the poll's margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points.

The poll did not break out results by Congressional district. And some residents said they thought the new First District, in ways that will not be seen until Election Day, might be even more unpredictable than those who drew it had imagined. Mr. Obama overwhelmingly won in this part of the state, with independents being a big part of that victory -- as was the case in many other parts of the nation.

"So many voters came out of the woodwork to vote for hope and change," said Frederick G. Gouge, a retired mechanical engineer in Edmonds, which was in the old First District.

"Now the ardor has cooled a bit, the pattern might not quite be the same," he said.

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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