Rob McKenna's Savvy Positioning Puts Democrats in Attack Mode

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When Republicans cut money for education in a budget they pushed through the Senate late last week, the state Democratic Party sent out a blistering missive--aimed at Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rob McKenna. The Democrats have a point, but it's also evident that McKenna's savvy positioning of himself is making them nervous.

"What does Rob McKenna, the supposed 'education' candidate, really think about his party's attempt to hijack the state budget to pass $74 million in devastating cuts to K-12 and higher education?" asked an e-mail sent around to reporters this week by Reesa Kossoff, Washington State Democrats' communications director.

The e-mail went on to blast McKenna for refusing to take a stand on the budget when approached by the Associated Press. As AP reported, a campaign spokesperson said that the "appropriate" time to comment would be after the budget is all wrapped up.

Okay, we'll see if McKenna speaks out then. It certainly is fair game to ask him to comment on his party's maneuvers in the legislature, particularly since he has carved out education as his signature issue.

Yet, the Dems attacks, on this and other issues, seem especially sharp. A previous e-mail from Kossoff accused McKenna of "misusing his public office to advance his discriminatory views on marriage equality, " ostensibly through the wording he suggested for an upcoming ballot referendum. Indeed, even before McKenna announced his run for governor, the Dems set up a website mocking him.

Undoubtedly, that's because they see the AG as a strong candidate. That's ever more true now that he's focused on education, sometimes in a way that plays to Democrats as least as much as Republicans. In his announcement speech last year, for instance, he cited the "dramatic erosion of state support for higher education," an acute problem that Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire has seemed unable to do anything about.

Some of McKenna's other education positions, like his support for charter schools, may alienate Democratic voters. Yet so-called "education reformers," even Democratic ones, may like that about him too. Prominent Democratic donor Nick Hanauer made waves last month when he indicated he might defect to the other side when it came to the gubernatorial race.

"There can be no doubt that the positions he is taking on public ed are crisper and more aligned with my thinking than any Democratic leader in our state," Hanauer wrote about McKenna in an e-mail that went public.

All of which means we're probably in for a lot more heated attacks.

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