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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Lisa Brown both highlight their roles as working moms in early ads

 (The race for Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District will probably draw the most attention around the country as incumb)
(The race for Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District will probably draw the most attention around the country as incumb)

A political ad war brewed this week between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Lisa Brown, but it wasn’t over policy, President Donald Trump or the inefficiencies of Congress.

It was an arms race for motherly bona fides.

Brown released her first TV ad last week, titled “Lucas,” a spot that played up the former state legislator’s dispute with rules in the state’s House of Representatives that barred her tot from the floor of the Legislature in the early 1990s. The Democrat said the experience, and the subsequent push to get the rules changed to allow children on the floor, showed she would fight for working families in Congress.

On Monday, the McMorris Rodgers campaign released “Mom,” a 30-second spot in which the congresswoman likened her job over the past 14 years to the one she’s held since 2007: a working mom.

“Being a mom, serving in Congress, for me, they’re not that much different,” the Republican says, addressing the camera seated in a modern-looking kitchen.

Neither ad mentioned the candidate’s likely challenger in the November general election. That’s typical of these types of biographical spots that air early in election seasons, said Travis Ridout, a political science professor at Washington State University who specializes in campaigns and advertising.

“They’re positive. They don’t mention an opponent,” Ridout said.

They also play into what each woman’s political party wants to see, he said. The McMorris Rodgers ad credits the congresswoman for bringing more air refueling tankers to Fairchild Air Force Base (though not the next generation of aircraft), playing to a Republican desire for female leaders not only to be nurturing, but also protecting.

“She’s kind of combining that, the mom part with talking about keeping kids safe and supporting the military,” Ridout said.

Brown’s ad focuses on an issue that would likely resonate with Democratic voters: increasing public child care options for working families.

The two presumptive candidates are already in an advertising battle, with both snatching up tens of thousands of dollars of airtime on broadcast networks in Spokane. McMorris Rodgers began buying TV spots in May and has spent more than $160,000. In 2016, her TV ads didn’t begin until mid-July, according to Federal Communications Commission reports.

Brown had spent more than $30,000 as of last week, almost matching the entire amount Democrat Joe Pakootas spent in his unsuccessful 2016 bid. Pakootas also didn’t begin running ads until after the primary, in mid-October.

It’s unlikely ads will begin to target the candidates until later in the election cycle based on evidence from other races, Ridout said, though Brown may have to contend with efforts from Republican interests to define her before she has a chance to introduce herself to voters.

“I expect, after Labor Day, we’ll see a big barrage of negative ads, mostly from the outside groups,” he said.

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