During the past month, in interviews and debates, Democratic congressional candidate Darcy Burner has touted a degree in economics from Harvard University to convince voters she is prepared to deal with today's economic problems. But while "she took courses in economics, Burner doesn't have a degree in the subject from Harvard," The Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter wrote today on page one.
David Goldstein at Horse's Ass, a big backer of Burner, phoned Harry Lewis, the Harvard professor and ex-dean quoted in the Times story, to see if his words were in any way misconstrued by the paper's reporter. According to Lewis, they were. Lewis said Burner fulfilled part of Harvard's Computer Science degree requirements by "specializing in economics," while adding that "the way Darcy is describing herself is accurate." Huh? Was the Times wrong? According to Heffter, no. She writes that when Lewis was asked whether having an emphasis in economics is the same as a degree in economics, as Burner had claimed, he said, "No ... it's a concentration within a degree."
Either way, the damage has already been done. Eli Sanders at The Stranger says the scandal could have been avoided had Burner been more clear in the first place. He writes: "Burner, the darling of the Netroots who worked at Microsoft and understands the power of the Internet better than most candidates," should have known that "if she misstates, or exaggerates, or clumsily describes her Harvard degree it will eventually be caught on tape and she will eventually have a moment like the one she's having now. To not protect herself against that possibility is just plain sloppy campaigning."
The Burner campaign's response was to go after her opponent, Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, and his own collegiate biography. They got lucky. Apparently, Reichert's official entry in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress said he had a four-year bachelor's degree from Concordia Lutheran College in Portland. Reichert actually has a two-year associates degree from the school, and the reference has since been corrected. A spokeswoman for the Republican's campaign told News Tribune reporter Melissa Santos that the B.A. reference on the Web site was just a mistake and not, as per Burner's claims of an economics degree, a repeated "pattern of deception." Update: Reichert spokesman Mike Shields emailed me to say neither the congressman nor his aides control the Biographical Directory site, whose editors told The Seattle Times they received the erroneous information from "a Washington Post Web site biography and a 2004 issue of The Hill, a congressional newspaper."
So. How bad will the fallout be for Burner? My guess: not as bad as you would think. Before Degreeboat hit, Burner had been riding a wave of good news. According to the latest SurveyUSA poll, she currently leads Reichert 50 percent to 46 percent. She's also received more money than any other Democratic congressional challenger in the country. Then there's the purported wave of Obama "change" voters who will supposedly swamp the polls on Election Day. She could conceivably ride out the scandal and win. But first she needs the bad headlines to go away, and fast. Reichert will do his best to make sure that doesn't happen.
Meanwhile, here's a few newsworthy tidbits.
Rail question: Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels debated yesterday with Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman about Proposition 1, Sound Transit's $17.9 billion light rail expansion measure. Nickels, a longtime supporter of rail and the chairman of Sound Transit's governing board, said ST2 would help create a "more dense and vibrant urban area," while helping relieve the region of its dependence on the automobile. Freeman, who favors more road lanes, van pools, and buses, argued the measure was too expensive and wouldn't relieve congestion as promised. ...
Railing away: Mayor Nickels told KIRO-AM host Dave Ross on Tuesday that he will vote against the $145.5 million Parks and Green Spaces levy on election day, saying the city parks aren't in a crisis and that it would be better to "wait a couple years until the economy got better and frankly, until we had a better plan." Nickels isn't the first one to come out against the measure. Yesterday, P-I columnist Joel Connelly said voters should say no to both the parks levy and the $75 million levy to make basic improvements to Pike Place Market. ...
Railroad job:Big While the editorial board at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has already recommended voters reject Initiative 985, Tim Eyman's "traffic congestion relief" measure, the board editorializes against the initiative again today, saying I-985 would "divert an estimated $290 million in the next biennium from the state's general fund, which pays for public schools, health care, law enforcement, higher education and other services." ...
And finally, NBC News political director Chuck Todd notes the tension within the McCain campaign, as gleaned from news anchor Brian Williams' latest interview with McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
"There was a tenseness ... There was no chemistry. I couldn't see chemistry between John McCain and Sarah Palin. I felt as if we grabbed two people and said 'sit next to each other, we're going to conduct an interview.' They're not comfortable with each other yet. ... You can tell they know they are losing. There's an intensity there. They're drained. The entire campaign staff is drained. The two candidates seem guarded. They seem on edge. It's not as if they were rude or anything. It's not as if they weren't trying to be forthcoming. It's just, it's a negative intensity."
What do you think? Perhaps McCain is peeved about having to answer questions about a certain $150,000 scandal.