One of the most prominent public faces of the Donald Trump White House told a gathering of Spokane Republicans on Friday night she had a history in the district.
Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor and often his defender in the media, first experienced Eastern Washington as a pollster studying the vulnerability of House Speaker Rep. Tom Foley in 1993, she said. Conway was working on a focus group that predicted the red swing that has persisted in the district since that election.
“That was an early indicator, and he lost that seat,” Conway told the assembled crowd at a fundraiser for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “And really the Democrats have not been competitive since. And they’re not competitive this year, either.”
The story drew some gasps from a collected crowd of more than 950 paid attendees at the fundraiser for the Republican, who’s in the middle of what appears to be her toughest contest to date to hold her seat against Democrat Lisa Brown. Conway is the second top GOP official McMorris Rodgers has brought to Spokane in a month with strong ties to the president, after Rep. Devin Nunes appeared at the Spokane Club at the end of July.
Conway downplayed the competitiveness of the race in her remarks, saying Democrats were ignoring what she called an improving economy across the country.
“They’re like that eye-rolling emoji,” Conway said, mimicking the texting icon for a lack of interest as the crowd laughed. “I won’t tell you what emoji I think of when I see them.”
The president was mentioned sparingly in the 30-minute speech by Conway, who flew into Spokane just in time for the congresswoman’s annual Pink Flamingo barbecue. The event draws its name from a nickname former U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde gave McMorris Rodgers earlier in her Congressional career. Republican supporters rubbed elbows with elected GOP candidates, state legislators, Spokane Mayor David Condon, several Spokane Valley city council members and others over traditional backyard fare, the congresswoman’s 14th such event since taking office.
McMorris Rodgers and Conway embraced ahead of the speech. The fourth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said she’s long been friends with Conway, a former pollster who rocketed to cable news stardom as Trump’s campaign manager in the fall of 2016. McMorris Rodgers said she wanted to emphasize at the $50 fundraiser the success of Republican tax reform and the economy, not focus on Conway’s often-scrutinized media appearances including references to “alternative facts.”
“This is what I’ve talked to Kellyanne Conway about focusing on,” McMorris Rodgers said in an interview with media before the event. “This is restoring people’s hope and confidence again.”
Conway stuck largely to a local script, praising McMorris Rodgers for ushering a bill to address the nation’s opioid addiction crisis through Congress and supporting the military through a defense spending bill. Her harshest critique of the media was that they failed to report these actions, instead focusing on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Maybe it’s just me, maybe you – I have a hunch,” Conway told the group. “But any day of the week, I’d much rather turn on the TV or open the paper and hear less about Russia and more about America.”
That investigation was on the minds of a couple dozen protesters from the group Indivisible Washington, who lined the streets across from the private home where supporters gathered in tents to hear Conway and other Republican lawmakers. Conway appeared at the end of a week that ended with a guilty plea and verdict for two top Trump campaign officials on fraud charges and campaign violations.
“She’s collecting a paycheck,” said Joan Berkowitz, of Spokane Valley, of Conway, as she held a sign accusing the GOP of plotting to slash Social Security and Medicare – a claim the Trump official denied in her speech. “I think that, she’s going to go where the money is, unfortunately. It’s all publicity for them.”
Charles Thomas, a U.S. Navy and Air Force veteran, held an American flag upside down at the entrance to the driveway.
“Look at their platform. What are they for?” Thomas asked, rhetorically, of the GOP.
McMorris Rodgers, in her own speech before Conway took the stage, said the Republican Party’s record would drown out opposition calls in November.
“I must ask myself, a little bit, what is the Democratic agenda? I’m still waiting,” McMorris Rodgers said. “At every turn, the Democrats in Congress and the protesters on the street are saying resist, resist. Well I’m here to say we’re just getting started.”
Several fellow Republican politicians, who appeared in support of McMorris Rodgers, said they were excited to hear from Conway, who they saw as a strong, prominent woman in the party.
“She’s focused on women’s issues,” said Susan Hutchison, who is running for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell. “Women’s issues are so much bigger than the ones that Democrats always talk about.”
“She’s a trailblazer,” said state Sen. Shelly Short.
Conway closed her remarks with a plea for those gathered to vote Republican in November.
“Tell them why you support Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Congress, and tell them why they should, too,” Conway said.