Attack of the Gas Price Billboards


Four U.S. House members from Washington and Oregon, representing competitive districts, are among 21 Democrats in Congress targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee in a newly unveiled billboard and digital advertising campaign. They are being saddled with the latest rise in gas prices.

The billboards, directed at U.S. Reps. Kim Schrier and Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez, D-Wash., are an exhibit of the NRCC’s cookie-cutter approach to politics. They use the same words, and make the same allegations, regardless of a House member’s record or what place in America he or she represents.  The billboard language: “GAS PRICES ARE OUT OF CONTROL. EXTREMIST (name of House member) IS MAKING IT WORSE.”

The new campaign is partly designed to distract. New GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has at best a tenuous hold on his caucus. He is beholden to its far-right lawmakers. The House Freedom Caucus is threatening to block even a short-term spending bill, the result of which would be to shut down the federal government. That caucus is insisting on ideological demands, such as removing “woke” language from all appropriations measures.

Rep. Schrier has been down this road before.  The Issaquah pediatrician captured Washington’s 8th District in 2018, its first Democrat after 36 years of Republican officeholders. Two Republican groups, the NRCC and Congressional Leadership Fund, spent $5.5 million to try to hold the seat, but Schrier defeated three-time GOP statewide candidate Dino Rossi.

The NRCC was at it again last September, announcing with fanfare that it had reserved $2.3 million in airtime to oppose Schrier. The Congressional Leadership Fund shelled out $615,000 for an ad campaign linking Schrier to President Joe Biden. To no avail: Schrier won by a 23,500-vote margin in the district, which includes both suburban King County and Chelan and Kittitas Counties east of the Cascades.

Why have the Republicans come up short? The simple answer is, Democrats have fielded better campaigns and candidates. Another cause: the NRCC has aired one-size-fits-all-places campaigns, trusting that the same themes will work everywhere. They’ve tried to demonize ex-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is hardly a controversial figure here. And tagging Democrats with Biden? He carried King County by 500,000 votes.

By contrast, Schrier localized her message. A much-praised TV spot, entitled “Bench,” had Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly, a Democrat, and Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz, a Republican, sitting on a bench and explaining how Schrier had helped both their cities. Other Schrier spots stressed the Inflation Reduction Act cap on Insulin costs to seniors – Schrier is diabetic – and her support for abortion rights. The spots were created by the GMMB consulting firm, whose senior semi-retired partner Frank Greer lives here.

Gluesencamp-Perez will prove an equally tough target. She won the GOP-leaning 3rd District in Southwest Washington after MAGA Republican Joe Kent ousted incumbent Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the August primary. Kent was on record taking extreme positions: He mocked vaccines, called January 6 rioters “political prisoners,” and said Dr. Anthony Fauci should be tried for murder.

Kent is running again with the full embrace of his party. He was endorsed earlier this month by the State Republican Party. He has already staged a fundraising event at the Capitol Hill Club, center of Republican Party socializing in Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, Gluesenkamp-Perez has been signing onto bipartisan legislation, working on the Farm Bill (important in her largely rural district), and out meeting the folks – she holds her 10th town meeting Wednesday in Toledo. She has even kept on her staff two caseworkers from Herrera Beutler’s staff. She has also shown her independence, bucking Biden and saying student loan relief should come only if the federal government commits more resources to vocational and technical training.

In 2022, while Kent was defending all things Trump, Gluesenkamp-Perez talked about running a Portland auto repair shop with her husband. One TV spot showed the candidate sliding out from beneath a car, tools in hand, to pledge she would be a voice for ordinary folks.  Other TV spots featured endorsements for the Democrat from longtime Republican backers of Herrera Beutler.

It’s been said that an elephant never forgets. Our state’s political record is that Republicans don’t learn. The GOP’s winners of yesteryear, Dan Evans and Slade Gorton, aired masterful ads. A radio ad featuring a W.C. Fields voice mocked Al Rosellini for addressing Evans as “Danny Boy.” Gorton steered clear of nastiness toward longtime Sen. Warren Magnuson, instead presenting Slade as “Washington’s next great senator.”

Not so since. A memorable scene from the 2012 campaign for Governor had GOP State Chair Kirby Wilbur fuming at the quality of Republican Governors Association ads aired in support of Rob McKenna. All were generic and nasty. None displayed any knowledge of issues on the minds of Washington voters. The RGA blew more than $18 million, while Wilbur couldn’t get money for his party’s get-out-the-vote drive.

The Republicans’ 2022 campaigns featured clunker commercials, e.g. Tiffany Smiley campaign ads depicting incumbent Sen. Patty Murray as responsible for every known problem with the possible exception of wheat rust.  The Smiley team tried Seattle bashing, but Murray won King County by a huge margin. The Smiley campaign foolishly picked spats with Starbucks and the Mariners after the companies objected to use of their logos in GOP spots.

The Republicans’ House Majority Leader Steve Scalise recently sent out a questionnaire on what issues the House should be taking up. I filled it out, favoring Insulin cost caps for everybody and action to curb power plant emissions. I did so knowing there was the risk of getting on his mailing list.

Sure enough, there soon arrived an “urgent” email urging me to protest “weaponization” of the U.S. Justice Department and the latest indictment of ex-President Trump.

Thus, the Dems enjoy a built-in advantage going into 2024 reelection races. The Republicans have a tin ear toward this region of the country and can be counted on to waste money on cookie-cutter advertising.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.



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