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Brace yourself: Blitz of political ads about to begin

With big offices and hot issues on the ballot, plus the influence of PACs, ads may be more frequent than usual.

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By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Writer
A small crop of new campaign commercials hit airwaves this week, signaling the start of a vibrant fall season of political sparring in 30-second spots.
With campaign battles for a new governor and for legalizing charter schools, marijuana and gay marriage, television viewers can expect a dizzying number of creative and crafty productions in the days leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
"By the time the election season is over, we'll be pulling out our hair and turning off the TV," said Professor Bruce Pinkleton of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. "Watching commercials is part of what I do for a living. I can only take so much."
With candidates, political parties and independent super PACs hauling in mass sums of money, commercial breaks may be packed with more ads more often than previous electoral cycles. And not surprisingly, most of them will probably be negative.
"Research on negative advertising shows if it is carefully constructed, it will move the needle in terms of public opinion," Pinkleton said.
While the volume of ads in this state will probably become annoying, it would be worse if Washington was in play in the presidential race.
"If we lived in a battleground state, we wouldn't be able to turn on a TV or a radio or a computer without being inundated by political campaign ads," said David Domke, a professor of communication at the University of Washington. "I've been (in battleground states) in the last couple months of a campaign. It's truly an overwhelming experience."
WSU political science professor Travis Ridout said if incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell was considered at risk in this election, that race also would generate big spending on commercials.
Though political advertising will be "hot and heavy" up to Election Day, he said, "I don't think we'll see the most negative campaign ever."
This week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna began airing his third commercial statewide, and his first since the primary.
He's paid to get it played a couple hundred times on the four network stations in the Seattle market, according to reports those stations post online through the Federal Communications Commission. It's also running on cable channels, though the operators are not required to disclose their records online.
Also this week, the Republican Governors Association, a national group, launched its initial ad, an attack on McKenna's rival, Democrat Jay Inslee. And a real estate group's political committee is back on the air with a spot lauding McKenna's work as the state's attorney general.
Inslee, who ran two ads in the primary, isn't scheduled to be on the airwaves again until at least next week. But campaign officials didn't rule out a change in plans.
"We obviously want our message to be received by voters," said Sterling Clifford, communications director for the Inslee campaign.
Outside groups operating independent of the campaigns can complicate matters for candidates, especially when they are funded well enough to buy gobs of valuable airtime, as is the case in the race for governor.
The GOP governors group began the week with $4 million, which is more than enough to run ads through Election Day.
Similarly, Our Washington, a pro-Inslee political committee whose donors include the Democratic Governors Association, had collected $4.25 million. It is not running ads now but appears ready to start next week, according to filings with the FCC.
"The volume of outside money that we're seeing affects the calculus of the campaigns in terms of when and how you spend your money," Clifford said.
Charles McCray, spokesman for the McKenna campaign, said they knew there would be people working to advance one candidate or the other.
"We'll make sure while we get our message out far and wide, we'll be defending Rob's record against attacks by Inslee's allies," he said.
Like the governor's race, the contest for the 1st Congressional District is attracting national interest -- and maybe outside money.
As of Friday, neither Republican John Koster nor Democrat Suzan DelBene had moved to run any commercials in the next few days.
However, House Majority PAC, an independent committee working to elect Democrats to Congress, is reserving time for commercials on network stations later this month, according to online reports.
Larry Stickney, Koster's campaign manager, acknowledged the "noise" of outside groups compels the campaign to ready a plan with them in mind.
"We will be making our presence known this month," he said. "It's got to be quality. It's got to be hard-hitting. It's got to be often."
Viet Shelton, spokesman for the DelBene campaign, said they expect the airwaves will be very crowded, as campaigns aim to reach voters early because of the state's vote-by-mail system.
But he said the landscape is still evolving as those dueling on three ballot measures -- Initiative 502 to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults, Referendum 74 to preserve a law allowing same-sex couples to marry and Initiative 1240 permitting charter schools -- begin grabbing prime commercial spots.
"It is not settled," he said. "When the landscape does get formed, we need to be able to get our message out."
Remote, please
A new federal law will help you learn when political commercials are running on the four network stations in the Seattle market. KOMO, KING, KIRO and KCPQ already keep a file for the public containing advertising contracts of candidates and interest groups.
Since Aug. 2, they've been required to post those contracts on a website managed by the Federal Communications Commission. Find them at
Curious what you'll see?
Here's what gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee are saying in two of their campaign ads:
Rob McKenna campaign ad:

Jay Inslee campaign ad:

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;
Story tags » State elections

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