Democrat Denny Heck and Republican Jaime Herrera are trading jabs and using late-arriving mailers and television spots to reach voters before Tuesday's vote deadline in their closely watched 3rd Congressional District race.
The latest SurveyUSA poll for King-5 television this week showed Heck within the margin of error, trailing 50 percent to 46 percent in a poll that showed Herrera up by 11 points just a few weeks before. The new poll, released Wednesday, had an error margin of 4 percent and queried 640 likely voters.
The 3rd District is considered the kind of toss-up district Republicans say they need to win if they are going to take back control of the U.S. House. And it has drawn a fierce fight to replace Democratic Rep. Brian Baird, who held the seat six terms in a district that has swing tendencies – supporting Barack Obama for president and Republican Dino Rossi for governor in 2008, for example.
But the two candidates are offering sharply contrasting messages – about themselves and each other – Heck as the job-creating entrepreneur who thinks the national stimulus kept the economic collapse of 2008 from being worse; he also wants to make further reforms to curb health care costs and to promote jobs with tax incentives. Herrera is a free-market advocate who wants to cut spending and taxes, undo the recent health care and Wall Street reforms, and give what she calls predictability to businesses hesitant to hire.
Allies of the two candidates also have been busy pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads and fliers into the fray even as many voters have cast their ballots (38 percent turnout as of Thursday evening in Thurston County). Some of the claims are misleading. Here’s a sampler.
Taxes: One Washington state Republican Party flier accuses the Democrat of championing an income tax and voting for large tax increases – including on food – in the early 1980s as a legislator. The mailer echoes a television ad from Herrera that casts Heck in the leisure-suit era of the 1970s and says he voted for tax increases and fought for an income tax.
Heck never voted for the income tax as a House member, but his campaign concedes he did vote for some tax increases during a Republican governor’s administration. He also voted as a member of a citizens committee to recommend an income tax and sponsored a constitutional amendment for an income tax bill that didn’t go anywhere or even get a hearing, Heck spokesman Aaron Wasser says.
But Heck told The Columbian newspaper that he voted against the GOP’s budget in 1981-83 on grounds it cut too much from education. He later voted for business tax increases in 1983, according to Herrera’s spokesman Casey Bowman.
Wasser and Heck have complained that Herrera’s side is “cherry picking” Heck’s votes and bill sponsorships from 30 years ago while ignoring that Heck voted more than 40 times to reduce taxes or fees on bills that actually became law.
The Herrera campaign accused Heck of “selective amnesia” over his tax votes.
Social Security: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has run a television ad showing footage from a Republican candidate forum in Lewis County in May where Herrera held up a placard saying “Yes” to allowing private accounts for younger Social Security participants. The ad shows her raising the sign four times as various bad outcomes of privatized Social Security are explained by a narrator.
But in fact Herrera raised the sign only once at the forum – and she later said it was a mistake caused by not understanding the question. She has since clarified that she does not favor private accounts or an increase in the retirement age.
Heck’s campaign said the ad fairly points out there are downsides to opening private accounts. “If her best defense is she didn’t understand the question you can take that for what it’s worth,’’ Heck spokesman Wasser said, adding that it doesn’t speak well for someone going to Congress to not understand a clearly asked question.
Andy Stone, spokesman for the DCCC, also insisted the ad is fair, explaining that “just as she’s done with issue after issue in this campaign, Herrera only began singing a different tune after her statement in support of privatization was brought to light and her campaign realized it was a political liability.”
Herrera’s campaign says that is false and that she spoke in favor of private accounts only the one time, in error, and has been clear in other venues.
Abortion rights: The DCCC also has launched a series of fliers attacking Herrera for her anti-abortion stand, including her wish to overturn Roe v. Wade, the court ruling that led to legalized abortion nationwide.
One mailer says that Herrera’s position, if realized, “could take away a woman’s right to choose in every case, even rape.’’ Herrera has said she favors some exceptions to the no-abortion rule, but has been unwilling to say if she favors specific exceptions to save the life of a mother or in cases of rape and incest.
Herrera’s campaign has refused to discuss the matter further, dismissing the brochures as an effort to change the subject.
Nancy Pelosi: One advertisement from Americans for Prosperity – which received money from Koch Industries, which has ties to the tea party – tried to tie Heck to the House speaker and suggested he was a 30-year career politician who was putting Pelosi’s agenda ahead of the district’s needs.
Heck has not been in elective office for 25 years after leaving the Legislature in 1985 (he did run for state schools chief and lost in 1988). After co-founding the nonprofit TVW television network, Heck spent much of the past decade as an investor and business owner.
GOP spending: Other Democratic attacks on Herrera have shown a broken piggy bank and assailed her spending as a legislator. The advertisement included references to her collecting thousands of dollars of per diem, or daily expense reimbursements, which most lawmakers ask for and receive (some Democratic lawmakers that live in Olympia collect it).
Outsourcing jobs: The Heck campaign also has made light of Herrera receiving $5,000 from the Koch brothers, wealthy industrialists who gave generously to Americans for Prosperity and who had a hand in shutting down a Camas mill a few years ago.
Taking that further, the DCCC has issued a flier saying Herrera pledged tax breaks for companies that ship jobs to China. It shows a Chinese flag and crudely distorts Herrera’s action.
Herrera did sign a no-tax pledge with the Americans for Tax Reform group. Democrats are using that to imply that she opposed legislation that was aimed at closing tax rewards for companies that operate overseas.
But independent and nonpartisan Factcheck.org found those claims – raised in other Democratic attacks on other Republican candidates – were false. (FactCheck is part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.)
Factcheck found the pledge was against “all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and included opposition to smaller deductions or tax credits – “unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.’’
Claims have been made that Herrera received campaign donations from interests that took away jobs in southwest Washington. But, her spokesman Bowman said:
“If anyone has contributed to this campaign because they think Jaime’s for outsourcing jobs, then they are sorely mistaken. She’ll go to bat for the people of southwest Washington to keep jobs from leaving our region. Jaime’s job is to serve the people of southwest Washington, not corporate interests.”
Bowman then invoked a misleading claim used by others to attack Democrats. He claimed Heck’s support for the federal stimulus translated into support for sending “green jobs” to overseas factories (a claim that has been refuted elsewhere).
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog