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Sunday, May 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Inslee positioned pretty far to the right for the Democratic presidential debate

Washington residents hoping for a rare sighting of their governor will get their chance Wednesday night, when he participates in the first of two debates for Democratic presidential candidates.

It will be about two-thirds into the middle of a a nine-day campaign swing, which not surprisingly has the state Republican Party complaining about how little time he’s spending in the state.

To be fair, in the summertime when the Legislature is gone, we don’t usually see that much of the governor, whether Inslee or his predecessors. If he were in the state doing governor stuff, Republicans would likely be grousing about that, too, because as the opposition party, that’s their job.

He did take questions from constituents on a Twitter “town hall” session one day last week, with video answers on such topics as rural access to broadband, recruiting more foster parents, updating overtime laws and improving the economy through a higher minimum wage, family leave and better education. He also explained that he doodles quite a bit, his favorite hike is on Mount Rainier and his favorite soup is Irish clam chowder. We’ll see how many of those come up on Wednesday.

The lineups for the debate were drawn somewhat at random although it is slightly suspicious, albeit not mathematically impossible, that Elizabeth Warren was the only candidate with a double-digit poll showing to land in the first night while the three B’s – Biden, Bernie and Buttigieg – wound up in the second.

The lineups were announced two weeks ago, but last week we were told the candidates’ placement on the stage, which sent political nerds into a new round of analysis.

It’s clear that center stage goes to candidates with the highest poll numbers while those who might be singing that old Three Dog Night tune “One is the Loneliest Number” are off to the wings. Looking at the television screen, Inslee will be the second from the end on the right side of any television group shot, sandwiched between former Rep. John Delaney and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

While that puts him on the right wing as far as viewers are concerned, he’ll technically be to the left of most candidates as they stand there. So you could spin it either way.

The four power slots in the middle will be occupied by Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar.

The event will be broken into two one-hour slots, with a total of five people from NBC or MSNBC sharing the moderator duties.

Let’s be clear about one thing: This is not a debate in any traditional sense of the word. It’s sort of like a joint news conference with 10 people who may generally agree on big things but are dying to quibble about little things. There’s no way that each question will be asked of one candidate, and the other nine will be given equal chances to chime in.

In political terms, it’s a cattle call. Friends in the military might call it a Charlie Foxtrot.

If the Republican presidential debates of 2016 are any guide, the higher polling candidates in the middle of the stage will get more questions, and more chances to rebut the answers of other candidates. You can argue that’s not fair. But it is show business.

Push comes to shove

Speaking of things that aren’t actually what people like to call them, Spokane mayoral candidate Ben Stuckart was likely wrong to allege that someone was doing push polling on him a few weeks ago. At least based on his description of what people were telling him they were asked in phone calls.

A push poll is a very specific thing, several pollsters were quick to remind us after we reported that Stuckart accused an opponent of conducting one. Note: We didn’t say they were push polling, we reported that Stuckart said they were. But we’re happy to provide a clearer explanation of push polling.

It goes like this: The phone rings. You answer. The caller at the other end asks just a few questions that amount to some version of “Would you support Candidate A if you knew he kicked kittens?” or “Would you vote for Candidate A if you knew she spit on the American flag last Fourth of July?” Then they hang up.

They don’t care about your answer. Their job is to make as many calls as possible and plant the seed that Candidate A is a no good, worthless piece of fertilizer – and not the chemical kind.

Stuckart described something different, a poll that started with a list of fairly standard questions about support and issues then segued into some negative themes about him. That sounds like what is technically known as testing negative messaging.

What’s the difference, you might ask. Well, push polling has been an official no-no since 1996, according to the American Association of Political Consultants. But testing negative messaging is completely Okey-Dokey.

Political consultants have standards, too.

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