Inslee: Mr. Jobs. McKenna: Mr. Schools. Huh?

Politicians look at their vulnerabilities and suddenly announce that they are not the person we all thought they were. Not smart.

Politicians look at their vulnerabilities and suddenly announce that they are not the person we all thought they were. Not smart.

One reason there is so little trust of politicians is their unfortunate tendency to portray themselves as pretty much the opposite of what they are (and everybody knows they are), hoping to avoid attacks on their weaknesses and attract the undecideds. This way you can fool some of the people some of the time.

The Washington governor's race offers a good illustration of this devil's maxim. Democrat Jay Inslee is known, like most Congress members, for a rather narrow specialty: encouraging low-carbon energy development. He's a skeptic about military incursions (though, given his north-Seattle district, a stout defender of Boeing); he's a reliable backer of labor issues. He is, what you might call a Seattle liberal.

But of course that doesn't exactly translate statewide. So in announcing, Inslee portrays himself as a powerful creator of jobs, and not just new-economy, green jobs. Thus he tries to steal a typical Republican theme of creating jobs, though without their methods of lower taxes and deregulation and curbing unions. And thus he tries to fend off the charge that the kind of jobs he has been talking about creating are few in number, subject to foreign competition, and mostly for the highly educated. But still, he's Jay the Jobs Guy.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Rob McKenna, who has been hungering for the governorship almost as long as Inslee (which is to say since college), is not portraying himself as the tax-cutting, regulation-trimming, free-market fellow that he is but rather as the man who will dramatically restore education funding to the glory days of the past. Education is almost the last thing one associates with McKenna, a sharp lawyer and shrewd politician. Restoring full funding is a particularly hollow promise given McKenna's aversion to tax increases. The education theme is surely poll tested, but it came off as a big Huh?

To be sure, jobs is the big issue in the state, and education is the leading motherhood issue for suburban independent voters. Politicians should address the major concerns of the electorate, even if they are late to the party. And it makes sense to innoculate against weaknesses and to try to expand your natural base.

Up to a point. It would be a lot better if each had spent at least the past year coming up with a slew of solid proposals in these new areas, introduced legislation, and assembled a team of advisers who are deeply respected in these fields. Better, too, if campaign advisers would say to them that the major way you position yourself has to be credible and has to spring out of a lifetime of commitment to that theme. It has to be You, not the Not-You.

As it is, both candidates, good as they are, stumbled out of the starting gate.


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