McKenna and Inslee turn to primetime | Andy Hobbs

Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee - Courtesy photo
Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee
— image credit: Courtesy photo

In November, Washingtonians may elect their first Republican governor since John Spellman back in 1981.

The race between Rob McKenna, a Republican, and Jay Inslee, a Democrat, could be a squeaker in a state that prefers more liberal governors.

As the Attorney General, McKenna is blessed with a job that keeps his name in the public eye. Inslee has faced an uphill climb since dropping out of Congress last spring to focus his candidacy.

McKenna has the edge in name familiarity, especially in must-win King County. However, Inslee may have scored his first major "victory" over McKenna with a TV commercial.

The question is whether Inslee's ad was that good, or McKenna's ad was that bad.

In 30 seconds, Inslee's ad "Get to work" portrays the former Congressman as a handsome and principled leader with modest roots, a wholesome family and a love for public service.

In contrast, McKenna's ad titled "Family" goes the campy Brady Bunch route.

The criticism of McKenna's corny commercial is directed less about what was said, and more about what could have been said.

In the ad, did voters meet an intelligent Attorney General with a history of high-profile actions performed on the public's behalf? Did the image of McKenna bantering with his children and jogging alongside his wife send a message of a strong leader — or did it remind you of corny classroom skit?

The Stranger, a tabloid known for its hatred of anything Republican, astutely observed McKenna "dweebing it up in the suburbs."

If McKenna's ad tried to connect with everyday people, then the ad tried too hard in the wrong direction.

If the campaign wanted to portray McKenna as an admirable family man, a simple smiling group photo would have covered that base. For a prime example, see McKenna's other ad, titled "Job creation," in which the presumed front-runner looks more like a presumed front-runner.

The 2012 political zeitgeist focuses on what a candidate isn't, rather than what a candidate is. Candidates are desperate to show they are normal people with special achievements. The everyday voter loathes public figures with privileged backgrounds, forcing candidates to downplay the traits that set them apart.

Above all else, the average voter wants a candidate who's genuine and strong. That impression will dominate primetime TV in the coming weeks — an impression of leadership that's packaged and sold, 30 seconds at a time.


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