Seattle’s polite congressional race saw its first attack ad this week. Then suddenly it turned into thin-skinned progressive infighting at its worst.

Share story

The quiet race to replace Jim McDermott in Congress finally heated up a degree or two. Which immediately caused gaggles of Seattle progressives to faint.

Brady Walkinshaw, who is believed to be trailing Pramila Jayapal in the Democrat vs. Democrat 7th Congressional District contest, this week launched the first attack ad. As these things go, it’s pretty mild.

But the reaction wasn’t. Jayapal’s campaign went thermonuclear, invoking race, misogyny and Donald Trump.

Walkinshaw’s TV ad features women noting that while both candidates are good progressives, Jayapal has some blemishes. In her two sessions in the state Senate, she missed a slew of votes, including for this year’s final passage of the state budget.

The ad also claims she was “rated the least effective senator in Olympia.” This is from a ratings service called FiscalNote, which judges how well lawmakers can pass legislation. It ranked her 49th out of 49 senators this past biennium.

Voting attendance and rankings are shallow means to assess a lawmaker (there are many ways to have clout without passing bills). But they’re also fair game, and a regular trope in campaigns. When I saw this ad, my reaction was: “Is that all they’ve got?”

But the Jayapal campaign played a whole deck of race, women and “Trump” cards.

“The attacks, the demeaning of women’s accomplishments, enough,” says a counter ad she cut, showing Walkinshaw intermixed with footage of Trump.

“As a woman in office, I’m really saddened to see desperate, Trump-style attacks on women and their accomplishments,” echoed state Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, at a news conference organized by the Jayapal campaign.

Seattle City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez suggested that Walkinshaw, who is Cuban-American, is a race-baiter.

“When I ran for Seattle City Council, I was also subjected to ‘dog-whistle’ politics — being made to be the ‘other’ and having my race brought up in subtle ways,” Gonzalez said in a statement though the Jayapal campaign. “I am troubled by a narrative of making Pramila the ‘other’ in this race, and I feel the need to call it out here.”

One America Votes, a sister group to the immigrant-rights nonprofit Jayapal once headed, piled on, saying Walkinshaw’s ad served to “pit communities of color against each other.”

Uh, folks? You can see from my photo above that I’m Clueless White Guy. I’m also a voter in the 7th District. So help me out: How is what Walkinshaw did in any way racist or anti-women?

I’ve been a fan of Jayapal’s ever since she skillfully helped run the police-chief search committee — a complex political task that had stumped many before her. But all Walkinshaw did here was highlight some of her obvious weaknesses.

She does have a thin record in elected office — she’s been in office less than two years. And she did miss a lot of votes. The effectiveness rating is a lame criticism, but it’s also factually true.

But … racist dog-whistling? In a campaign between an Indian American and a Cuban American, what would be the point of whistling to racists anyway?

And saying he demeaned all women, when what he did is critique the record of one woman, is demagoguery.

Sure, it’s only campaign skirmishing. But the reason it bugs me so much is that there really is a dog-whistling, race-baiting misogynist loose on the scene. And it’s hardly Brady Walkinshaw.

It hasn’t been easy to convey what an extreme outlier Donald Trump is to typical political discourse. The Atlantic’s James Fallows took to compiling a months-long “Trump time capsule,” a 148-part chronicle of all the “things Donald Trump says and does that no real president would do.” It’s a primal, journalistic cry that says: “This. Is. Not. Normal.”

So by calling out “Trump-style attacks on women” or racial dog-whistling where none exist, that makes it seem like Trumpism is everywhere.

Comparing Brady Walkinshaw, of all people, to Trump — that just normalizes Trump.

It also makes me worry, for the first time, about Pramila Jayapal. If she wins, she’ll probably represent Seattle in Congress for as long as she wants. Going nuclear with imagined racial slights at the first sign of adversity is a disappointing start.