Throughout the fall of 2006 the polls showed Darcy Burner steadily closing in on Dave Reichert. While her internal polling never showed her with a lead, several other polls showed the race within the margin of error during the final weeks, and momentum seemed to be on her side. Even on election night, trailing by a few thousand votes, there were some experienced vote counters who projected a narrow Burner victory, with late absentee ballots shifting the race her way.
Well, it didn’t happen. Throughout most of the district late absentees trended toward Dave Reichert, who gradually expanded his lead as votes were tallied.
In retrospect it seems clear that Burner’s momentum stalled around mid October, with the race breaking slightly toward Reichert during the final two weeks of the campaign. No doubt there were a number of factors responsible for Reichert’s victory, but many observers credit his sexist and demeaning “job interview” ad… and the Burner campaign’s failure to adequately respond.
Will 2008 be a replay?
Once again Burner closed sharply on Reichert, with several polls showing her with a small but significant lead by mid October. And once again the Reichert campaign has attempted to swing the race his way with a demeaning and dishonest ad.
No doubt the “Harvard Hoax” ad is effective; there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that many viewers come away believing that Burner never earned a degree from Harvard at all. But this time the Burner campaign has directly responded with an ad of its own, calling Reichert’s lies “pathetic”, and assuring voters that she did indeed graduate from Harvard.
But perhaps the real game changer this election season is the diminishing opportunity for a game changing ad at all, when viewed in the context of the unprecedented torrent of negative advertising that has flooded our airwaves in recent weeks… much of it courtesy of the $7 million the BIAW and RGA dumped into the governor’s race at the last minute.
In the context of this tidal wave of negativity, the “Havard Hoax” ad comes across as just another ripple… just another attack ad lost in the deafening roar of a sea of attack ads. Add to that the general distraction of the presidential race, and it becomes harder and harder for any one political ad to make a difference. Even the NRCC’s predictably effective “she’s gonna raise your taxes” ads get lost in the noise of “she’s gonna raise your taxes” ads launched against Gov. Gregoire.
“Yeah, we know already…” the vast majority of voters must be screaming to themselves, “She’s a Democrat. She’s going to raise our taxes. We get it.” Who exactly “she” is, and in what race, well, what’s the difference?
Compare that to the 2006 cycle, when the biggest race on the ticket, Cantwell vs. McGavick, had already effectively been over for weeks, and McGavick shifted toward softer ads to preserve his reputation. In that context the job interview ad could stand out. In 2008… well… not so much.
I’m not claiming victory or anything, or making any predictions, but I do think it reasonable to suppose that Reichert has faced a much greater challenge this year in his efforts to close out the campaign trashing Burner’s character and reputation. And for that, the BIAW and RGA’s seemingly bottomless warchest deserves at least some of the credit.