Voters in the 19th Legislative District Friday received a mailer encouraging them to write-in Teresa Purcell instead of Democratic candidate Erin Frasier in a move Democrats are calling a “sickening” attempt from Republican activist Glen Morgan to split the vote. Purcell is not running for office.
Morgan, whose political action committee the Conscience of the Progressives paid for the mailer, told The Daily News Friday that he wants to give voters the option of a “true” progressive candidate.
However, Morgan has filed hundreds of campaign financing complaints against Democrats, including many directed at Purcell after her narrow 2016 loss to Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) for the the 19th District seat.
And Purcell said Friday she is not running for the position and is actively campaigning for Frasier, a Pe Ell Democrat who is challenging Walsh.
“I’ve never seen anything this low, and that’s saying a lot,” said Purcell, a communications consultant who has worked in campaign politics for decades. “It’s a fake organization, which is not progressive at all, saying they’re progressive and encouraging progressives to write in somebody not running, who is not interested in serving at this time and is 100 percent supporting Erin Frasier.”
The mailer, addressed to residents, reads, “Don’t be fooled by fake Progressives like Erin Frasier (“D”). Let’s write in a real progressive: Teresa Purcell.” It includes an image of a ballot with Frasier and Walsh scratched out. Purcell’s name is written at the bottom instead.
Walsh and Frasier competed neck-and-neck in the August “top two” primary. Walsh out-polled Frasier by 136 votes, or about 0.4 percentage points. Both automatically moved on to the general election.
The district represents all of Pacific and Wahkiakum counties, western Cowlitz County (including Kelso) and parts of Lewis and Grays Harbor counties.
Morgan said Walsh did not know about the mailer.
He said he created the PAC because he has been the “conscience” of the progressive party for the last two years by holding candidates accountable. He also said he has heard from Democrats who were upset the party doesn’t promote more progressive candidates.
“I just think (Purcell) is probably a more progressive candidate than Erin right now, so she’d be a better option,” said Morgan, a Thurston County resident. “That doesn’t mean I have to agree with her. If given the choice between an honest progressive and someone who pretends to be a progressive, I’d rather go with the honest one.”
Frasier called the mailer a last-minute attempt to distract people with misinformation and pull votes away from her.
“In this campaign, I haven’t felt the need to do that, we haven’t done that and we won’t do that,” she said. “I’m not willing to play that game and I hope that moving forward, we find a lot of candidates that are willing to step up and take a chance at being a representative for the right reasons … not because they won some campaign battle.”
Walsh sounded shocked to hear about the mailer for the first time from The Daily News.
“Glen is an unconventional activist,” Walsh said. “He’s really neither left nor right. It’s hard to pigeonhole him. I guess it’s possible he means this. He’s unconventional, and I think he prides himself on that. I can’t say I’m surprised by anything he would do.”
Morgan said he has also sent out mailers in races for the 6th and 26th Legislative Districts and the Thurston County commissioner race.
“People who look at politics as Republicans and Democrats don’t see nuances,” he said. “The best thing is a clash of ideas: True progressives versus true conservatives. Then you have a genuine difference in people running for office.”
Morgan’s 19th mailer also includes a 2016 statement from progressive organization Fuse Washington endorsing Purcell, prompting an angry response from Fuse.
“Fuse enthusiastically supports Erin Frasier for Legislature and we recommend her in our 2018 Progressive Voters Guide. This dirty hit piece uses our 2016 recommendation for Teresa Purcell to intentionally confuse and mislead voters. Voters should reject Republicans’ dirty tricks in this race and support progressive Erin Frasier for Legislature,” Fuse said in a statement.
Fuse also asked the Public Disclosure Commission to investigate the mailer and said the state Republican Party should denounce the mailer and shut down the PAC.
“This tactic is just appalling. Actually, it’s sickening,” Purcell said. “It’s just fundamentally dishonest in so many ways.”
“They can call it whatever they want,” Morgan responded. “It’s much more sickening when people actually pretend to have a belief but don’t actually stick up for it.”
Walsh said he didn’t need anyone trying to split the Democratic vote, if indeed that is what Morgan is attempting to do.
“I absolutely am not asking for it. I want to draw a light on Erin Frasier’s lack of substance,” Walsh said. “I’m not into other stuff. Anything that creates drama and draws attention away from Erin’s lack of substance is not of any interest to me.”
Frasier said she was grateful for Purcell’s support.
“We really ran a campaign focused on talking to people. I feel certain that most people targeted (by the mailer), we’ve already had a chance to talk to. If not, I hope they reach out. I hope a piece of false information floating around isn’t enough to change someone’s perspective.”