Early indications lead this writer to make a prediction in the Washington State governor’s race, not of who will win next November and attempt to rescue the state from its chronic fiscal troubles, but that the contest could go down as one of the nastiest in recent history. For Republican attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna to grasp victory, his own strong positions on the issues and Democratic candidate Jay Inslee’s weaknesses may not be enough. He will likely need to quickly identify the moving parts of the inevitable smear campaigns Democrats have already begun launching against him.

But on Thursday night, McKenna walked into one of the oldest traps in politics. According to sources, at the onset of speech to King County Young Republicans at a Bellevue community center, McKenna noticed one young man sitting quietly in the front row and filming. The young man was Zach Wurtz, who proudly informed the room that he was with the Washington State Democrats and was simply there to listen to McKenna’s speech.

After being told by the meeting’s organizer that he could stay—but would not be allowed to record—Wurtz began lecturing the state’s top lawman on points of constitutional precedent. The incident rapidly evolved into a standoff as the Young Republicans called Bellevue Police for intervention.

The scene was described Friday morning in gory detail by other Seattle outlets, first broke by left-wing blog Publicola. Despite reporter Josh Feit’s questionable use of an exclamation point on the end McKenna’s request to Wurtz that he put his camera away—in Wurtz’s YouTube video the request can be observed as a mild tone of irritation, something akin to a father getting fed up with a petulant child—any attempt by the McKenna campaign to spin the article as a fabrication would be pointless.

But the damage was done before Feit even began drafting his Morning Fizz hit piece. (Feit and the rest of the Seattle media have yet to report on the informational void that is Rep. Jay Inslee’s website for the governors campaign.) McKenna was snared by a dirty Democratic trick as soon as Wurtz’s presence caused the gubernatorial hopeful to stop speaking to the Young Republicans and begin focusing on the interloper.

Rule number one in the chapter of the candidate handbook on dealing with hecklers should be: “Wait until you see the backs of their throats.” The entire goal of Wurtz and his masters in the State Democratic Party was to create an image of McKenna as a candidate worried about having his words exposed to the public. As soon as McKenna decided to forgo giving his speech, Democratic HQ coded Wurtz’s mission accomplished.

All Washington State Democratic chair Dwight Pelz had to do Friday was read from his portion of the script to register the entire well-choreographed political kabuki in search-engine optimized “history.”

Again working through Publicola, Pelz smugly said that McKenna should “Get over it.”

Now that his value within the Pelz-Inslee Democratic apparatus has been validated, Wurtz is likely to be as ubiquitous a presence at McKenna’s events as the attorney general himself. But should McKenna react by erecting a wall to keep Wurtz out, voters may also begin questioning whether they, too, are unwelcome in McKenna’s campaign. Such a response would give Pelz and Co. an excuse to turn up the volume on a war chant many in Washington media will be only too happy to amplify.

Instead of getting over it, as Pelz taunted, McKenna should get on with it, the campaign to beat Inslee, that is, a campaign that should be conducted as transparently as it is vigorous. Wurtz is an irritant, an itch that should not have been scratched. His purpose is to create the impression that closed doors exist around the McKenna campaign, the endgame being to breed suspicion where none is warranted.


[photo credit: flickr]