With a recent TV ad as the only tangible explanation for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee's startling jump in the polls—he took a seven point lead over Republican Rob McKenna in the latest Elway Poll after being behind or barely tied for months—the Inslee campaign unveiled another TV ad today.
McKenna released his first ad late last week.
A look at Inslee's spin offers a clue to what may be working for the Democrat; interestingly, it's a bit of reversal of the usual contrast between Democrats and Republicans.
Inslee's new ad does a couple of obvious things: Hyping his college job as a bulldozer operator, it positions him as a rugged working man (the ad emphasizes job creation and closes with a shot of Inslee and a bunch of hard hat dudes). Nice trick. Inslee, a former attorney, is actually a Bainbridge Island guy.
It also positions Inslee as an independent, recounting his votes against the Wall Street bailout and the Iraq war. Sticking with the bulldozer imagery, he's "plowing his own path."
It also connects Inslee to Bill Clinton, who is quoted praising Inslee's green jobs plaftorm, portraying Inslee as a moderate Democrat. (Having a pragmatist like Clinton praise green jobs instead of Obama, by the way, also distances Inslee from the arugula tag.)
Finally, taking the manly bulldozer theme to its conclusion, we see a bulldozer cruising along with an Inslee bumper sticker. Inslee, is, well, a bulldozer.[pullquote]Having a pragmatist like Clinton praise green jobs instead of Obama, by the way, also distances Inslee from the arugula tag.[/pullquote]
More significantly, it offers a real contrast to McKenna, whose latest ad portrays him as the nerdy suburban dad. McKenna's ad features: laptop computers (in almost every shot including one in his sparkly kitchen), a tablet, an upscale suburban home with computer speakers, and McKenna jogging ... with his wife (she's outpacing him).
I hate to be crass, but this is effete stuff. Especially in contrast to Inslee. (Check out the pose McKenna strikes when he boasts about his stint as UW student president.) Inslee manages to turn his green job pitch (which often has the pitfall of reading as elitist vs. real blue collar work) into a macho alternative with towering windmills while McKenna's future economy, nestled in iPads, and computers, and schooling seems like a turnoff to the traditional Republican base. (Republican Dino Rossi alienated the working class base by rashly coming out against an increase in the minimum wage in his losing 2008 run against Gov. Chris Gregoire; McKenna may make the same mistake with his own well-calibrated messaging.)
It's also a flip of what voters usually see—the nerdy, brainy Democrat and the regular guy Republican.
Comparing these two ads is startling—and may offer the simplest of all explanations for Inslee's rise: Inslee is a handsome jock, McKenna is a nerdy goody goody, an archetypical embarrassing dad.
Compare and contrast for yourself. Just like Inslee's new numbers, it's startling: