In this photo taken July 4, 2018, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., shakes hands as she walks in the Johnson 4th of July Parade in Johnson, Wash. McMorris Rodgers has been sharply attacking Lisa Brown (not shown), her presumed Democratic opponent in the run-up to August's primary election. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Eastern Washington US House race takes harsh turn

July 27, 2018 - 1:31 pm

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is sharply attacking her presumed Democratic opponent in the run-up to August's primary, calling Lisa Brown "dangerously liberal" as the incumbent heads into what is expected to be a tough re-election campaign.

A television ad on behalf of McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking woman in House leadership, said Brown was soft on sex offenders while in the state Legislature.

Brown planned to unleash some negative ads of her own, attacking McMorris Rodgers for voting dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Brown said the McMorris Rodgers ad was misleading and showed that the incumbent is worried. The ad claimed Brown voted against a bill that would have given the state authority to prohibit some convicted sex offenders from living within a quarter mile of a school. Brown said she voted against the bill because she did not think it was tough enough, saying it should have included preschools and child care centers.

"They ran the same attacks against me in 1996 when I was running for the (state) Senate," Brown said. "I'm amazed they would resurrect that....Negative ads so soon show a real concern about what the primary is going to look like."

Not so, McMorris Rodgers' campaign said.

"This is Lisa's record and she needs to defend it," said Jared Powell, a spokesman for the 14-year incumbent.

The sniping comes ahead of the Aug. 7 primary.

McMorris Rodgers has two primary challengers from within her own party, who appear to have little chance of making a dent in her path to the general election. Brown is the only Democrat in the race. Under Washington's primary system, the top two vote getters advance to November, regardless of their party.

The 5th Congressional District hugs the Idaho border and is dominated by Spokane, the state's second-largest city. The district has been reliably Republican since George Nethercutt's shocking defeat of Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994. Candidate Donald Trump easily beat Hillary Clinton here in 2016, 52 percent to 39 percent.

Travis Ridout, a political scientist at Washington State University, said running negative ads so early makes some sense for McMorris Rodgers.

"If McMorris Rodgers does really well in the primary, then donor and voter enthusiasm for Brown may wane," Ridout said. "But if Brown does well, McMorris Rodgers will look extremely vulnerable."

McMorris Rodgers ranks fourth in House leadership and is often seen at the side of Speaker Paul Ryan. She hopes her heavy slate of television ads prevents a Foley-style loss.

"I don't take anything for granted," she said. "It has been my desire to make sure the people of eastern Washington know about my record of results."

McMorris Rodgers has mostly coasted to re-election in her seven previous congressional campaigns, often with 60 percent of the vote. But early polls in this race put Brown, who spent 20 years as a state legislator, within striking distance.

The race is expensive. As of June 30, McMorris Rodgers had raised $3.7 million and had $1.7 million in cash on hand. Brown raised $2.1 million and had just over $1 million in the bank.

That buys a lot of television advertising in the relatively cheap Spokane market.

McMorris Rodgers is also highlighting her work in Congress, noting five bills she sponsored in the past year have been signed into law.

"All have a direct impact on the hard-working people of eastern Washington," she said, covering issues like health care, healthy forests and protecting Snake River dams from being breached.

McMorris Rodgers has broken with President Trump on foreign trade issues, in part because her district is a big exporter of farm products.

"I have been outspoken in my opposition to across-the-board tariffs," she said. "I have been urging the administration and the president to lead with the farmers in mind."

McMorris Rodgers said serving in House leadership is a positive for her constituents.

"I have a seat at the table when decisions are being made," she said. "That shows in my record of results."

She said Brown "has consistently voted to raise taxes," and made the point in television ads denouncing "Liberal Lisa" and calling her Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's candidate for Congress. She also has criticized Brown's past backing of a state income tax and a single payer health care system.

Brown does not apologize for supporting the idea of a state income tax, which she contends would be more progressive than the state's reliance on a high sales tax for money.

Brown has highlighted her efforts as the former chancellor of Washington State University-Spokane to establish a new medical school. McMorris Rodgers contends that Brown is taking too much credit for the medical school.

For her part, Brown contends that McMorris Rodgers' GOP leadership role prevents her from pursuing the best interests of her constituents.

"Does the party always come first for her?" Brown said, adding that voters want someone who will stand up to Trump.

"Congress is broken," Brown said. "After 14 years, she is part of the dysfunction."

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