Washington candidates tell contrasting economic stories

Spending as a Culture War Issue

In a recent Crosscut/Elway poll of likely voters in Washington, those who identified as Republicans were three times more likely to say the economy is a top concern. Meanwhile, voters identified as Democrats were nearly seven times more likely to cite abortion as a major issue. As election day approaches, both parties have been considering these priorities, which they respectively see as winning issues.

The Republican message against “wasteful spending” has put some in a position to broadly oppose federal economic stimulus programs, even going so far as to vote against big increases in federal dollars for their home districts.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of eastern Washington backed relief efforts under Trump but has since voted against even routine government funding. She was the only Republican in Washington to oppose the Consolidated Appropriations Act, a bipartisan effort that garnered 155 Republican votes in March. Notably, it included $22 million in projects proposed by his office — the second-highest allocation total of any state representative, according to a New York Times analysis.

McMorris Rodgers told Crosscut that she voted against the annual budget bill because the price was too high – but was unable to point out specific provisions she objected to.

“I’m concerned about the overall increase in spending, the record increases in spending that we’re seeing from this administration,” McMorris Rodgers said, before moving on to a critique of another bill, the reducing inflation.

McMorris Rodgers has also stepped up his opposition to federal spending in the year since Spokane County hired his brother, Jeff McMorris, to oversee the distribution of more than $100 million in U.S. bailout money. She said her brother’s experience hadn’t influenced her view of ARPA, she said, calling it “not COVID relief, just more expense.”

Despite ARPA’s characterization as a big, bloated government in a party vote, Republican officials oversaw much of the spending at the local level. Police and prisons have been among the main beneficiaries of ARPA dollars, both in Washington and nationally.

Unlike Larkin’s inflation ads, Schrier positioned federal investments in services and infrastructure as bipartisan victories, touting local Republican buy-in and highlighting police spending. But other Democrats, like Murray, have recently sought to bolster their legislative achievements by appealing to key social issues like abortion access or voting rights.

Travis Ridout, a political advertising researcher at Washington State University, said hardline stances on federal spending — even among representatives who benefit from it — partly reflect broader partisan divides.

Campaigning on local issues and bringing resources back to a district may have worked years ago, but gerrymandering has resulted in fewer genuinely competitive districts, which means increasing grassroots participation of the party often counts more than the withdrawal of theoretical voters. And that means playing on burning national issues.

“That means talking about abortion or the ‘scourge’ of immigration or whatever, as opposed to, I brought price supports to the farmers in our district, or I had that road repaved” , Ridout said. “If all I have to do is make sure my people show up to vote, then maybe it doesn’t make sense to talk about passing legislation. Maybe I just need to drive people crazy.

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