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The congressional race in Washington State’s First District is a dead zone in terms of media coverage. Democratic incumbent Rep. Jay Inslee, despite a miserable record of killing jobs in a blue collar district, has been awarded safe seat status due to a 56 percent showing in the primary. No polling data can be found, very little reporting from the race exists, and yet Republican challenger James Watkins – a former troubleshooter with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and a newcomer to politics – presses on in spite of an immense fundraising disparity. While Watkins is at a dollar disadvantage against Inslee’s sizable war chest – stuffed to overfull with special interest dollars – he is going back to basics to expose possible weaknesses in the incumbent’s support.
Is Watkins tilting at Inslee’s utopia of government-sponsored windmills? Or is there a rational basis for driving forward in what many see as a solid Democratic seat?
As a collection of bedroom communities filled with busy middle-income families, the First District also excels in its political complacency in terms of voter awareness. Watkins is interfering with Inslee’s generic, context-free name recognition, the very basis for Inslee’s weak connection with voters.
Those who have watched Inslee in action (or Inslee’s inaction), know that his success in politics stems mainly from not being seen or heard too much. After relocating from the Eastern Washington district he lost to Rep. Doc Hastings in 1994, Inslee quickly moved environmental protection, global warming and high-tech jobs into high rotation on his list of talking points, then hit the auto-pilot button. Even Inslee’s healthcare town halls from the summer of 2009 were little more than a clumsily-staged road show by a tone-deaf congressman attempting to serenade union-packed houses.
In this election, Inslee’s effort to connect with voters doesn’t rise much higher than the unremarkable blue and green yard signs that have blended into the scenery (perhaps by intention, and much like the candidate himself). Now, however, hundreds of those placards will be sharing space with a sign that highlights Inslee’s real legacy – undisciplined big government spender. The sign (see the image above) conveys a simple message to voters: “Bankrupting America: Jay Inslee Since 1992.”
Watkins hopes the signs and the publication of a thoroughly researched issues guide that details Inslee’s votes on key measures affecting jobs and spending will prompt voters to start forcing Inslee to answer some uncomfortable questions. Watkins cited several key votes by Inslee as worthy of intense scrutiny before the critical November 2nd election date.
– Transferring $500 billion from Medicare to government-managed healthcare monstrosity
– Using $80 billion in TARP funds to bail out auto manufacturers
– Inflicting an energy tax on Americans that would cost families more than $1,500 per year
– Running up a historic $1.4 trillion deficit during tough economic times
“Voters are engaged like never before,” Watkins explained in a release issued yesterday. “The guide is my attempt to highlight the critical issues facing us in 2010. I’d prefer an open debate with Jay Inslee, but it’s pretty clear that won’t happen. As a 14-year Congressman, he feels entitled to make the rules. His team has been stringing us along since the primary in August, and he won’t agree to anything resembling a real debate. He’s running out the clock.”
Watkins has some reason to believe that getting voters to engage could be a path to victory. In March, at the beginning of the primary, Watkins commissioned a Moore Information poll that showed Inslee was vulnerable provided that person could educate the public about Inslee’s positions and background. After a description of Watkins and Inslee was read to respondents, Watkins beat Inslee 44 to 42 percent in a head-to-head contest. Even prior to learning details about the candidates, only 37 percent told the pollsters that Inslee deserves to be re-elected.