Dan Satterberg might have thought he had an inside advantage and was cruising to succeed the late Norm Maleng as King County prosecutor, just as Maleng had succeeded his boss, Chris Bayley, years earlier. But if so, he got a jolt from the banner headline in this morning's Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The P-I reported that Sally Bagshaw, chief of the civil division, was soliciting endorsements on behalf of Satterberg, Maleng's chief of staff and now acting prosecutor. There's nothing illegal here, so what's the fuss? Bagshaw was making the requests on her own time and without using a county computer for her e-mailing. The answer is that Satterberg has been caught in a claim to high moral ground. Nothing is more tempting to political journalists than finding smudges on a campaign photo. Just ask Barack Obama, who was skillfully maneuvered into admissions of error by Hillary Clinton's campaign. It's admirable to proclaim yourself a different kind of candidate and work to achieve that. Just beware that you've sent an invitation to reporters to hunt for perceived contradictions. In Satterberg's case, he proclaimed his desire to continue Maleng's policy of keeping the office free of political influence. According to the P-I, on June 4 Satterberg told the office staff: I will be proud to continue the policy that Norm established to not permit members of the office to either contribute money or a personal endorsement to my campaign. ... It is best for the office for employees to remain above politics. It's that last sentence that now haunts Satterberg. The P-I sees a contradiction, but Satterberg and Bagshaw do not. Maybe we need a lawyer to sort this out, but Bagshaw said she was just doing what she did previously for Maleng without controversy. The issue is heightened by criticism of these solicitations by a rival, Bill Sherman, a deputy in the office who's on leave to run for prosecutor. Also, the P-I notes that many of the law firms approached by Bagshaw get business from the civil division. A similar scenario played recently in the presidential campaign, where Barack Obama has called for an end to attack politics. Clinton wants to pull Obama down from that high ground. One way is to demand that Obama "distance himself" from this or that, and ensnare him in controversy. Clinton played that tactic effectively when a former supporter, entertainment billionaire David Geffen, made nasty remarks about Bill and Hillary Clinton. Rather than deal with the substance of Geffen's criticism, the Clinton campaign changed the subject by calling on Obama to disavow Geffen and return a donation. It worked. At subsequent campaign events, Obama had to explain why he wouldn't criticize Geffen while Clinton said she wanted to run a positive campaign, stealing her rival's issue. More recently, the Clinton campaign got another chance when it received a copy of an Obama campaign memo referring to "Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)" and her financial ties to India. Opposition research is standard stuff, but Clinton's campaign saw an opening and released the memo to reporters. That forced Obama to call the memo "a dumb mistake" and not reflective of his own relationship with the Indian-American community. Clinton is trying to put Obama in a box where he can't say anything negative about her for fear of violating his own principle. Perhaps the greatest example of a politician twisting on his rhetorical petard was presidential candidate Gary Hart, who in 1984 encouraged reporters to investigate his private life. In short order, a photo emerged of him with a woman (not his wife) sitting on Hart's lap on a boat aptly named Monkey Business. While Clinton seeks to smudge Obama's image, she also is working to polish her own, especially among those who see her as calculating and ruthless. What better way than to make fun of that image with a video playfully comparing herself to Tony Soprano? Back in Seattle, Satterberg is on the defensive, saying Bagshaw's solicitations of endorsements and donations by law firms are appropriate. This might be a one-day story, or Satterberg might feel pressure to make a change. There's an old maxim in politics: When you're explaining, you're losing.