In the final weeks before what is likely to be the closest election for Eastern Washington’s seat in Congress in decades, both candidates honed their focus on voters likely in their own columns.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers toured rural areas of Eastern Washington in an RV emblazoned with her campaign sign, and trailed by a mobile “JumboTron” she described as “a rolling billboard” to well-wishers in the small Lincoln County community of Wilbur late last month. Lisa Brown, her Democratic challenger, stayed close to the urban core of Spokane, a wellspring of blue in a district largely covered by red, rural expanses.
On a recent Friday, the congresswoman’s caravan crept along the two-lane U.S. Highway 2 through Lincoln County, with stops in Reardan, Davenport, Wilbur, Odessa and Harrington. This is a county McMorris Rodgers won handily in the August primary, with 67 percent of the vote, and has traditionally performed well in during her 14-year tenure in Congress.
She greeted a dozen or so residents at the R-Store in Reardan, a grocery and community gathering place that has been transformed by owner James Kane. The door to the store was busted some weeks back and the glass was replaced with duct tape and repurposed McMorris Rodgers campaign signs.
“That’s Cathy supporting small businesses,” Kane joked.
Joining her on the trip were her three children: Cole, Grace and Brynn Catherine, the youngest who appeared in the store with a fun-size bag of peanut M&M’s.
“Where did you find M&M’s?” McMorris Rodgers asked her youngest. “Let’s not start off the day with M&M’s.”
From there, it was off to the Tribune Smoke House in downtown Davenport, where in a back room a couple dozen supporters gathered to talk about rural health care, agriculture and immigration.
Bernice Jackson plopped down a July 1, 2011 edition of The Spokesman-Review on the table next to McMorris Rodgers and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, introducing herself as “The Colonel” and pointing to the front page Shawn Vestal column on her family’s dedication to the military. The two shared an embrace after the meeting.
“I met her 10 years ago. I met her at a job fair,” Jackson said. “I’ve been with her ever since. I’m rooting for her.”
Jackson said she told the congresswoman she hoped she’d bring President Donald Trump to the district. She gifted McMorris Rodgers a basket with handmade stuffed animals for the kids and some wild blackberry jam from her children in Western Washington.
The daylong tour rumbled through Wilbur next, where resident Mary McDaniel questioned the congresswoman about the tone of the television advertisements in the race, and encouraged her to run ads that instead focused on her accomplishments.
“We have run a campaign focused on my accomplishments,” McMorris Rodgers replied, adding that “campaigns are also about a choice, and what the record is.”
McDaniel said after the appearance she supported the congresswoman and that she believed McMorris Rodgers had been put on the defensive by the tone of the race.
“It should be like the 90s, when you tell them what you’re doing and what you’re planning on doing, not so much trying to put each other down,” McDaniel said.
Brown tours Spokane, South Hill
Democrat Lisa Brown received a rock star’s welcome at a rally and march Oct. 22. It began with a speech at the Gathering Place, just outside Spokane City Hall, where Brown’s remarks were interrupted by passengers aboard the city’s SkyRide below the falls.
“Lisa! Lisa!” a young family called from within their gondola, prompting a cheer from the roughly 200 supporters bedecked in campaign T-shirts, stickers and hats below.
Brown cast the election in her speech as a choice of future visions for America.
“You care about your community, and you care about our collective future, these children who are here today and what they represent,” Brown said, as South Hill resident Shirley Grossman nodded vigorously in the crowd.
As she marched the several city blocks to deliver her ballot, along with dozens of others, at the downtown Spokane Library ballot bin, Grossman said it was this election cycle that had inspired her more than any other.
“I’ve voted, but I’ve never shown much interest,” said Grossman. “I am so worried for my children, and my grandchildren. I’m out here pounding the pavement, knocking on doors.”
She later posed for a cellphone picture with Brown. She was one of several voters who paused in the early autumn twilight after casting their vote (presumably) for the Democrat.
The welcome, which included the cheers from above, prompted later laughter from Brown, who’s been the presumptive opponent of McMorris Rodgers since last summer.
“I wasn’t expecting that. That was a surprise,” Brown said.
She followed the appearance with a debate in Walla Walla, her final against McMorris Rodgers, then another round of canvassing. The Brown campaign says they’ve knocked on more than 72,000 doors in the district since May.
Brown spent a recent Saturday canvassing on the South Hill, which is likely not only the center of her support in the district but also her former stomping grounds.
“I used to take Lucas there to get pink cookies,” Brown said, passing the Rocket Bakery at 14th Avenue and Adams Street and referencing her son, who earned some fame in the early 1990s as a renegade toddler on the floor of the Washington House of Representatives.
The 90-minute tour of the South Hill featured mostly friendly faces, an unsurprising result given Brown’s performance in the neighborhood during the primary and that many of her individual donations can be traced to the people living in the craftsman homes that dot a progressive stronghold for Democrats in Spokane and the district. But one voter refused to tell Brown whom he’d voted for when she came to the door, and the presence of a “Hillary for Prison” bumper sticker outside another home prompted some nervous laughter.
Randolph and Farrah John weren’t on Brown’s list of doors to knock on, but she stopped anyway to speak with the couple off Adams Street. Randolph John told her he hadn’t made up his mind, but he didn’t much prefer politicians who started as academics, including Woodrow Wilson.
“I was in the state Senate as well,” Brown offered. The exchange ended with a fist bump, and John’s hopeful statement that “maybe you can fight some of the craziness” in Washington D.C.
Brown said later she didn’t know what to say to Randolph John, though his wife, Farrah, was a strong supporter.
“Hopefully his wife has a conversation with him,” she joked.
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