Republican Nancy McLaughlin, who is now a lame duck on the Spokane County Commission, said Thursday she has “no respect” for the campaign tactics of her GOP rival, Josh Kerns, who beat her by three percentage points in this week’s primary.
In an interview, McLaughlin attributed her loss largely to “negative campaigning” by her opponents, Kerns and Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm. She accused them both of “twisting the truth” in letters mailed to voters. McLaughlin didn’t use negative ads in her campaign.
Updated primary results Thursday showed McLaughlin with 28.3 percent of the vote, Kerns with 31.2 percent and Mumm, a Democrat, with 40.3 percent. McLaughlin’s defeat came as a surprise given her tenure in local government and campaign funds about four times that of Kerns’. But she sensed a challenge from the start.
“I knew that this was going to be a tough primary because I knew that Josh – even though he’s never been elected – he knows how to campaign and he’s done it many times before,” McLaughlin said.
Kerns has worked on Republican campaigns since 2008 and as a legislative aide in Olympia for the past six years, most recently for state Rep. Jeff Holy. Conservative legislators – including Holy, Sen. Michael Baumgartner and Rep. Matt Shea – endorsed him.
Kerns’ campaign sent a mailer in July that included several dubious claims about the incumbent. One line stated that McLaughlin, a staunch fiscal conservative, had a “history” of supporting tax increases while on City Council, including her support of raising a property levy for Spokane’s branch libraries.
McLaughlin called the claims “disingenuous.”
Kerns stood by them.
“There’s nothing on the campaign we consider false or negative,” he said Thursday. “I don’t think we spread any lies or anything like that.”
Kerns said his focus on small businesses, property rights and less government spending resonated with voters.
“We were out there knocking on doors. We stayed on message,” he said. “We were out-fundraised big time. We definitely had to overcome a big monetary deficit.”
McLaughlin also took issue with a letter sent from Mumm’s campaign that implied McLaughlin would participate in “backroom deals” with developers. The letter referenced an apartment project on Indian Trail Road that has drawn the ire of neighborhood groups who say it will exacerbate traffic congestion.
“That’s a very public issue that we’ve been dealing with on the City Council,” Mumm said. “I think it was truthful. I thought we had a very positive campaign on the issues.”
Even with 60 percent of the primary vote in Republicans’ favor, Mumm said she’s hopeful moving toward the general election against Kerns.
“History shows that the advantage usually goes to the candidate who leads in the primary,” she said. “It will be very clear that we have different approaches to solving county issues. Voters will have a very clear choice to make.”
McLaughlin determined a mix of factors undid her campaign: key endorsements secured by Kerns, his active volunteer base, low voter turnout and complacency among her own supporters.
“What’s disheartening is that I’ve been taken down by a portion of my own party, while the other half didn’t even believe that I was at risk of losing,” she said. “I was telling my people we need to get out the vote, and they were saying, ‘Nancy, you’re fine. You’re safe.’ ”
Asked if there is tension within the party, McLaughlin declined to talk specifics. “All I would say is, it would be great if some elected officials would work to be unifiers and not dividers.”
Said Kerns, “Primaries over the years tend to create two camps, but I think we usually end up coming together.”
McLaughlin stopped short of saying who she’ll vote for.
“I will not be endorsing either candidate for what I found was a complete lack of integrity,” she said. “But I will be voting my conservative values when it comes time.”
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