The race to succeed retiring Rep. Brian Baird in Washington’s third district has taken a sharply negative turn with David Castillo, one of two leading Republicans vying for a spot on the November ballot, taking a proverbial hatchet to the other, State Rep. Jaime Herrera, in a robocall that has caused tempers to flare among political insiders in Southwest Washington. The robocall, narrated by a female voice who identifies herself only as “Susan” and put out on Thursday, attacks Herrera for taking money from labor union SEIU and for traveling to Washington, DC for events held that same day.
Herrera was in the nation’s capital on Thursday for fundraising and meet-and-greet events hosted by her former employer, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and high-profile Herrera endorser former Sen. Slade Gorton.
A representative of the Washington State Legislature with whom I spoke today confirmed that none of the committees on which Herrera serves met on Thursday; nor were any votes taken in the Washington State House of Representatives on that day. That, specifically, has one prominent Republican in the district outraged at Castillo’s attack.
However, the robocall has caused other tempers to flare, too. It emerged today that the Castillo robocall has even prompted one former Castillo endorser—Shannon Barnett, a candidate running to replace Herrera in the Washington State House of Representatives— to drop his support altogether. According to Barnett (with whom I spoke earlier), Castillo spending money on the call constitutes a waste of campaign resources. Furthermore, Barnett says, it evidenced an unwillingness on Castillo’s part to stick to a key campaign pledge made months ago to Barnett. Per Barnett, Castillo promised to focus his campaign on talking about issues that unite Republican voters in the district. Hal Palmer, an advisor to Barnett, added that he was “appalled at the distorted attack on Jaime Herrera.”
The robocall has also elicited some strong pushback from Keath Huff, a self-described Tea Party organizer and long time conservative activist who published an open letter to third district conservatives at his site LibertyTeeth on Friday. In that letter, Huff says he too was “appalled by the recent voice mail I received about my friend Jaime Herrera.” He goes on to blast Castillo for pushing out a “phone call” containing “blatantly false accusations” and employing “propaganda.” and urges recipients to support Herrera.
Meanwhile, multiple, additional third district Republicans are complaining that the Castillo campaign is violating the 11th commandment, misrepresenting Herrera, and improving Democratic chances of holding the third in multiple emails obtained earlier and reportedly sent to the Castillo campaign.
One prominent Washington State Republican who is neutral in the battle between the two candidates takes issue with the attack on Herrera relating to SEIU contributions, and believes this comes close to Castillo throwing stones in a glass house. Setting aside the robocall content, Castillo aides and supporters have been keen to assert connections between her and the union, with Castillo himself and new media consultant Patrick Ruffini tweeting on Friday about a post by Warner Todd Huston entitled “Washington State’s SEIU Bought Republican.” That post, and one other from last week, highlight SEIU’s endorsement of Herrera. Herrera opponents also frequently cite her vote for legislation backed by the union.
However, says the same Washington State Republican raising red flags about Castillo’s SEIU attack, that’s a description that voters may find better fits Castillo’s former boss, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, a prominent Castillo endorser. While Herrera did take $500 in August 2008 from the SEIU PAC, a search of Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission website shows that DeBolt in fact took in $3200 from various SEIU entities during the 2008 cycle alone. (An OpenSecrets.org search shows that neither Herrera nor Castillo has taken money from individuals employed by SEIU in the course of their congressional races as of the last filing period with the FEC.)
Moreover, a source tells me, Herrera’s support for legislation also backed by SEIU had nothing to do with alleged “connections” to SEIU. Rather, some providers of children’s care in her legislative district were speaking out ahead of that vote in favor of the legislation Herrera supported. A source who personally affiliates with Herrera and who has personal knowledge of the difficulties such providers were expressing around that time told me several weeks ago in relation to this point that this was one instance where employers were seeking a standardized employment contract, just as SEIU was. This source indicated that a standardized employment contract—something the legislation would have facilitated—was crucial to obtain from the providers’ perspective. Long-running problems involving individual employees asking for astronomical pay increases that could not be met had, in this person’s view, been evident, and this was something a standardized contract might have avoided. This, in turn, was connected in several instances to employees walking off the job with no notice, thus jeopardizing operations. This person wondered at the time how Castillo would have voted in the same circumstances, given his branding as a candidate.
Others see Castillo’s attacks—including the robocall—as a sign of desperation more than a possible misunderstanding. One Republican source pointed to the comparative advantage in fundraising already being experienced by Herrera. Herrera, who formally entered the race midway through December, raised $55,775 in what her campaign says was just about two weeks during 2009. By comparison, Castillo, who entered the race midway through 2009, raised $104,172 during the entire year.
One well-regarded politico with extensive, firsthand knowledge of Washington and national politics who is not connected to either the Herrera or Castillo camp says "Castillo had months to lock this down and make inroads with Republicans in the third. He didn't do it. This is like the guy in the bar who talks to a girl for three hours, fails to interest her enough for her to give her number out, and then gets pissed off when someone else buys her a drink."
However, not everyone takes issue with Castillo’s attacks. According to Kathy McDonald, a well-known Republican consultant from the third district unaffiliated with either campaign, “It looks like David Castillo is calling a spade a spade. The facts are Jaime was back in DC for a fundraiser, the fact is Jaime took money from the SEIU; the fact is she went before the legislative session was over. If she had waited 2 weeks until session was over this fundraiser would be a mute point.”
Perhaps in a sign that this robocall being put out has been a “no win” for both candidates, both the Castillo and Herrera campaigns declined to comment on this post. The DCCC has previously indicated that the contest between Castillo and Herrera to win over Republicans in the third district will be “divisive and messy,” and features the race on its Palin’s Primaries microsite. [intro]