Over the course of a year-long political race, campaigns work hard to develop a positive connection with voters on critical issues. They work twice as hard to portray their opponent as being on the wrong side of those issues.
On the best of days for a candidate, when events and geography intersect, the opponent does your job for you. For the campaign of Washington State attorney general and Republican candidate for governor Rob McKenna, today is one of those days and Seattle is the nexus.
Mid-Friday morning, on the north end of downtown, McKenna adjourned a three-day meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General and announced the group’s support for a long-term initiative to combat human trafficking. As NAAG president, McKenna has spearheaded the national program to crack down on a practice that currently ensnares untold thousands of women in desperate lives of involuntary sexual slavery.
Only a few blocks south, Democratic gubernatorial contender Jay Inslee mingled at a mid-day fundraiser at the Sheraton, an event headlined by California Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, a politician whose reputation as a womanizer blossomed into a full-blown scandal in 2007 when Newsom’s extramarital affair with the wife of his campaign manager made shocking headlines.
For many observers, Inslee’s use of Newsom as donor-bait is the latest in a string of links between the former congressman and a rogue’s gallery of adulterous Democrats.
Last month, the Manhattan fundraiser for Inslee hosted by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer (D)—the infamous “Client 9” in the records of a high-class escort service for which Spitzer was a frequent customer—raised eyebrows among Republicans and Democrats alike.
Inslee also took heat last year for a $1,000 donation he took former New York congressman Anthony Weiner (D) in 2000, not because he took the donation—the donation happened a decade before Weiner’s gratuitous Twitter exhibitionism became front page news—but because when most politicians were returning Weiner dollars, Inslee balked until media exposure forced him to make a donation in the same amount to a charitable organization.
Is there a logical, straight-line connection to make between McKenna’s work to end a cycle of sexual slavery and Inslee’s association with Newsom, Spitzer and Weiner? Of course not. In terms of the optics, however, a clear pattern of Inslee forming dubious friendships with unsavory characters could damage how his most taken for granted voting block—Democratic and independent woman voters—perceive the former high school football star.
Political consultant and notable blogger encapsulated the visual dichotomy earlier this week, writing at LizMair.com:
Serious business aimed at combating a real social ill versus light-hearted socializing with big names in party politics to propel one’s political career is what this will read as to some political observers, I imagine—unfortunately for Inslee.
But there is always the chance that voters may see more in Inslee’s choices than a case of political opportunism if the question becomes whether Inslee is ignorant of the behavior of his colleagues, or permissive of it.
One thing is fairly certain, Inslee’s lack of voice—both on these recent events but also in terms of a weak record of acting on women’s issues while in Congress—leaves a lot of room for voters to make up their own minds.