Dino Rossi’s Road to Olympia Runs Through a Fog of Ignorance
In a year when the Democrats stand poised to crush the Republican’s on the national level, normally left-leaning Washington State threatens to go right. The rematch between gubernatorial candidates Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi is sliding Dino’s way. This slip is not accidental. It relies on a carefully crafted campaign of doublespeak, innuendo, and rhetorical constructs aimed at confusing voters more than a butterfly ballot in Florida.
For those of you who don’t remember (and memory and knowledge is key) four years ago, Gregoire defeated republican Rossi by 129 votes after three recounts to become Governor, and has kept up a proud tradition of Democratic Governors in Washington (generally pushing moderate to progressive politics, and definitely not leaders.) Despite her narrow win, this year’s race should by all rights be Gregoire’s. Gregoire claims her leadership has largely helped Washington avoid the economic downturn, and in looking at her generally pro-business stance her claims are most likely true. She has satisfied her base by helping push through some progressive laws, like the Permanent Partner Benefit Bill, that have been viewed favorably by the west side of the state. So why is she having such a hard time clinching this election?
The answer is that Rossi is running a shrewd campaign. Rossi and his supporters learned valuable lessons last election, and as a result have created a cloak of ignorance to exploit voters using the same Republican messages that have been successful on the national stage. The number one lesson that Rossi learned last time is Washington State is largely Democratic. As a result, this year’s Rossi has stayed away from almost all substantive policy discussion with two exceptions: transit and fiscal discipline. When asked about abortion rights, reproductive rights, and gay rights, Rossi’s stock answer is that he’s not running on those issues. This statement allows Rossi to duck out of his voting record. But rather than not having opinions on these issues, Rossi’s history shows him leaning very far to the right. The creation of vagaries is one reason why Rossi has the support of 37% of the states pro-choice voters according to an August Survey USA poll.
The second strategy that the Rossi Campaign has employed is changing the ballot annotation. The (R) normally associated with the republican candidate has been changed to a (Prefers GOP) label. Despite a law suit that was widely covered in the papers over how Rossi will appear on the ballot this November, the change in how his party appears gives Rossi a three point boost according to a September Ellway Poll. The reason why Rossi can get away with exploiting this system is that his right flank is effectively protected by the Top Two Primary System. Before the Top Two system, the move away from the tarnished Republican brand and into the gray zone of “Prefers GOP” would have made the Rossi campaign vulnerable to a threat from an opportunistic right wing politician. Such a threat would chip at Rossi’s base by out righting him, and also would use the (R) label on the ballot to draw support out of the 25% of Washington State voters who doesn’t know what GOP means. This protection allows Rossi to exploit and expand any ignorance about his candidacy using it to his advantage. This strategy really shows just how much of a typical Republican Rossi is.
Recently, the Rossi campaign and associated 527’s (today’s versions of the PAC’s that Swift Boated Kerry) have used this cloud of ignorance in an extremely interesting way. The video below demonstrates Rossi’s exploitation and, in some ways, fostering of ignorance. It marks a recent campaign strategy to run Rossi as a Democrat (of sorts), against the Republican brand (and to some measure projecting that brand on to the incumbent.)
The ad utilizes fears of the current economic crisis to boost his campaign. A key moment aiding Rossi’s obfuscation of the candidate’s platforms comes at the end when the ad claims that Gregoire has “done to Washington State, what they’ve done to the rest of the country.” At the same time a Wall Street sign is imposed on a national map with a red Washington State with Gergiore’s picture over it. This particular set of images creates confusion and ignorance by tying Gregiore to the national economic system created by big deregulators like the Bush Administration and the pre-2006 Congress. The image of the red and Gergiore serves two purposes. The first is obvious: the state is in the red. But the second more subtle feature is to further connect her to the Republican brand by tying her image to the Republican color red. When we see Rossi in this ad, he appears in a green nature background wearing a blue shirt, creating contrast in viewers mind from the same brand implications that Gregiore is subjected too.
Rossi’s ad uses the contrast and subtle branding to position his campaign to a place in the public consciousness where it can adopt the change brand that’s being used successfully by Democrats all over the country. It’s implied that Rossi will adopt the “safe” and sometimes even the anti-market positions (if we extend the full meaning of the change brand to Rossi.) The really sly part about such an ad is that it functions best at a symbolic and emotional level. We have to break the ad down, and ask what messages it imposes and what we impose on it, before we can fully understand it, and what it means for this election. Most of us aren’t willing to partake in this level of analysis and introspection, which is one of the things that make this ad and the ads like it extremely effective. Yet, this is only a sample of what Rossi and associated 537’s are running this election season.
Unfortunately, Dino Rossi’s ads are hard to counter, making it easy for him to create the ignorance which will allow for victory in a state which is becoming more progressive every election cycle. Countering such a system isn’t easy. It’s the apathy so present in our current system that will let Rossi succeed.
In Give Me Liberty, Washington State native and author Naomi Wolf pushes home the point that positive political change requires sacrifice. Easy solutions aren’t going to win this time, which means Democrats have to get off the couch now. Blogging is great, donations are better, but boots on the ground, voices on the phone, and neighbors talking to neighbors, are how Gregiore will win. If anything we should know that when Democrats sit around, they lose. Democrats are faced with a candidate who, like the Bush administration is willing to create and exploit ignorance, it behooves us all to get involved. Not tomorrow, not on the 4th of November, but today.