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Olson Takes On Nethercutt Farm Leader Easily Wins Nomination; Nethercutt Receives About 50% Of Votes

Freshman Rep. George Nethercutt will spend the next seven weeks defending his record with the new Republican Congress as he battles Garfield farm leader Judy Olson for Eastern Washington’s congressional seat.

With about half of the precincts reporting, Nethercutt was collecting about 50 percent of the votes in the 5th Congressional District. Olson easily out-distanced two Spokane Democrats, Sue Kaun and Don McCloskey, to grab her party’s nomination.

Olson said the fact that about half the voters cast ballots for someone other than the incumbent is a signal that Nethercutt “hasn’t represented middle class families of this district very well.”

Nethercutt, who beat former House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994 to become part of the first Republican Congress in 40 years, said he is pleased with his showing.

“I look forward to a good campaign,” said Nethercutt, contending he would be able to defend his party’s record in Congress. “I have a pretty good record with the truth. My opponent does not.”

They will likely spend the next seven weeks arguing over such things as whether Republicans tried to cut Medicare, or simply restrain its uncontrolled growth with lower increases.

Olson said the proposal - which was ultimately vetoed by President Clinton - would have been a cut after adjusting for inflation and the increased number of patients.

“She sounds like she’s taking the line of the big labor union bosses,” said Nethercutt.

Olson said she heard concerns about Medicare voiced by voters all over the district.

Earlier this week, Nethercutt told supporters the Republicans “fulfilled our commitments” to cut spending and reduce the federal government. No one has been “badly inconvenienced” by those cuts, he said.

Nethercutt also denounced the AFL-CIO, which is targeting his record in an independent ad campaign. He asked for more money to counter with an ad blitz of his own.

An independent ad campaign helped Nethercutt against Foley two years ago when the National Rifle Association poured tens of thousands of dollars into critical television ads.

Olson, 50, is a former state and national president of the Wheat Growers Association, who runs a wheat farm with her husband and three sons outside of Garfield. She made the trek into Spokane each weekday morning to campaign in the district’s biggest city.

Even though Olson is not from Spokane, she did have the benefit of tens of thousands of dollars from unions, plus contributions from Emily’s List and the Women’s Political Caucus. That allowed her to buy television ads in the closing weeks of the campaign and the name recognition they generate.

Although Kaun and McCloskey are both from Spokane, they did not have enough money to mount television campaigns.

Kaun, 54, is a former manager of a Spokane-area sewer district and a civic activist who worked three years on the unsuccessful city county charter effort.

McCloskey, 58, a mediator in the West Central neighborhood, talked of bringing a higher level of conversation to the campaign.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)