Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Electoral Storm - The Air War

I was planning on writing about volcanoes, for the obvious reasons, but I'll push that back for the moment for the current status of the local political scene. It has gotten nasty on the airwaves of late, and looks like it will only get nastier.

I think people think that, just because you're a Democrat, you're under some requirement to play nice. These guys know hardball, particularly in this state. I saw it in the eyes of the Kerry supporters at the caucus and I'm seeing it in the strategy of the Democratic candidates adverts. They are hitting hard and hitting early, and the GOP is in that odd position of having to hustle up to hit back. And, I think, making a fatal mistake.

The most easy-going of the conflicts is Rossi (R) versus Gregoire (D). Rossi has tried to cast Gregoire as a "career bureaucrat" and therefore "part of the problem", while Rossi had spent time in the business sector (which, of course, has no problems at all). Gregoire hit back hard, pointing to the decade that Rossi spent in Olympia in government. Indeed, during the primary season, Rossi was pushing himself as a voice of reason and compromise in state government. Rossi's recent ads have shown a change of direction, casting himself as "Mr. Outsider" and undercutting his original message. The Gregoire camp isn't letting that pass, and in showing that Rossi is shading the truth a bit, is effectively defining him. The Dems have also been trying to tie him to more obviously conservative GOPs, which has been less successful to date, but this may change as a result of the most recent Senatorial follies (see below).

Then there is the race in the 8th, Ross (D) versus Reichert (R). Ross is going after Reichert as being "too right-wing", pushing the abortion issue in his latest wave of ads ("Rechert - Wrong on Choice, Wrong for Washington"). Pretty standard stuff in modern campaigns, but it ignores part of the primary. Reichert more to the left on the issue than his conservative rivals and got hammered for it, Ross in his primary was coming under heavy shelling for the fact that HE was slightly more conservative in his views than HIS Democratic rivals. Making it an issue now counts on the fact no one was paying attention earlier (in this fashion Ross is similar to Rossi).

But the amazing development is in the Senatorial race, Murray (D) versus Nethercutt (R). Murray unleashed a furious assault on the Republican early, with comercials pointing out that Nethercutt bailed on his term-limit promise, and ditched constiuents in Spokane, moving to Bellevue to strengthen his power base for the Senate run. They did a horribly efficient job painting Nethercutt as a "Say-Anything-Republican". It was pretty harsh and pretty effective. It made me wince.

And Nethercutt went nuclear in reaction. He went to the Quote - the one that Murray made a few years ago when someone asked her why people in the outside world liked Osama Bin Laden. Where she went on at length about how people liked Bin Laden because his construction company built infrastructure in poor nations (The correct answer was "No one likes him! He is the infidel! I spit on him! Hoch-pui!"). So the new attack ad commercial opened on Bin Laden's picture, scanned the wreckage of Ground Zero, then played the Quote, and ended with "Murray and Bin Laden, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G". And then Nethercutt, looking a little frayed around the edges, endorsing the ad.

This is amazing, and not because it is the first time a GOP politician has refered to Bin Laden by name in over a year. Nor is it amazing that the commercial cuts out the question which frames her answer, even though Nethercutt has his own Quote, which he bitterly complained about being taken out of context. (We talked about it here).

It is amazing because he went for it so soon. He's putting all his chips on this one, giving the Murray campaign the chance to hit back over the next few weeks (which they have shown no reluctance to do so far). Because now he'll have time to savor HIS dumb quote. Because he's reminded everyone that, no, we haven't caught OBL yet, with our Republican administration. Because he's decided to traffic in images of Sept 11. Because he's questioned the patriotism of a US Senator that has made port safety against terrorism a major issue of her past two years.

It is a very risky strategy, a Hail Mary of an attack ad. It better work for him, because if it doesn't, Nethercutt is not only going down, he's not going down alone. The people of Washington State got bent out of shape when the US Chamber of Commerce ran negative ads against Deborah Senn. The GOP in this state has gone out of its way to try to present (relatively) sane candidates, more moderate in appearance and mannerism than their predecessors. Nethercutt has now embodied these previous ruinous candidates, and the other candidates may have to distance them from him to save their own hides, weakening party unity. Nethercutt may even take Rossi with him.

As I said, its only going to get nastier.

More later,