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Originally published November 1, 2012 at 9:31 PM | Page modified November 2, 2012 at 6:33 AM

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Truth Needle: TV ad falsely ties McKenna to tea party

Truth Needle: A TV ad that links Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna to the tea party and the more conservative elements of the GOP misleads by using partial quotes and generalities.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The claim: Our Washington, a group funded by the Democratic Governors Association and labor organizations, is airing a TV ad linking Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna to the tea party, an anti-government, anti-tax political movement. The ad starts by saying, "He wants us to believe he's a moderate, but listen," then cuts to video of McKenna speaking at a rally several days after he joined a lawsuit to overturn Obamacare. The ad shows McKenna greeting the crowd — "My name is Rob McKenna, and I represent you" — then quotes him as saying: "The tea party is exactly what this country is about." The ad ends with McKenna telling the crowd at the rally, "You people are amazing!"

What we found: Mostly false.

This ad uses partial quotes and generalities to make the case that McKenna is closely allied with the tea party and the more conservative elements of the GOP.

The footage is from a March 2010 rally in Olympia organized by tea-party activists and other libertarian and conservative groups, including the state arm of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political-action group founded with the financial support of libertarian billionaire businessmen David and Charles Koch.

The rally was held on the state Capitol grounds on a Saturday, four days after McKenna joined a federal lawsuit to overturn Obamacare. The law, especially the provision requiring individuals to buy health insurance or pay a fine, is wildly unpopular with the groups that organized the rally, and the people there cheered McKenna for taking it on.

McKenna began his speech to the group by saying, "My name is Rob McKenna, and I represent you." What the ad doesn't show is that when the applause subsided, he added, "And I represent all the people of this state, whether you voted for me or not."

At the rally, he called the insurance requirement unconstitutional, and he told the group he was fighting for individual rights.

"We're not bringing this case to oppose the state's right to impose an individual mandate," he said. "We're bringing this case to defend your right from having it imposed upon you."

McKenna did say "You people are amazing," but he was referring to the grass roots-organizing effort that turned out more than 1,000 people for the rally on two-days' notice. In an offhand jab at the law's supporters, he noted that only about 50 people showed up at his office to protest the lawsuit.

He ended the speech by saying, "We will vindicate your rights as individuals. I will uphold my responsibility as the attorney general to defend the Constitution of this country and this state, and we will win this case in the court."

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate and the financial penalty associated with not buying insurance, calling it a tax that was allowable under the U.S. Constitution. McKenna has said he will not mount further challenges to the law, but he also has said he is not prepared to accept federal dollars to expand the state's Medicaid insurance program for low-income people unless the federal government allows the states greater say in how the program is structured.

The quote in the ad — "The Tea Party is exactly what this country is about" — is part of a larger quote taken from an article in The Stranger, a weekly newspaper in Seattle.

The full quote reads: "The grass roots movement reflected in the tea party is exactly what this country is about." The newspaper said McKenna made the statement during an October 2010 speech to the Snohomish County Republican Women's Club, in which he reportedly described the tea party as "an economic movement, a fiscal movement."

A voice-over in the ad also seeks to tie McKenna to congressional Republicans' efforts to cut student financial aid and to the GOP's platform that calls for a ban on abortion. We could find no evidence that McKenna has advocated cutting financial aid and, in fact, he has centered his campaign on increasing funding for education. On abortion, he has said he is personally opposed to it, but supports a woman's right to choose.

Whether you consider McKenna a moderate or an extremist depends, in large part, on where you start on the political spectrum.

What is clear: McKenna has gotten support from some tea-party groups, particularly because of his decision to challenge Obamacare in court. Americans for Prosperity, one of the rally's organizers, has since spent nearly $31,000 on radio ads backing McKenna's campaign for governor. The rally itself was organized by that group and others for the explicit purpose of thanking him for joining the suit.

And McKenna threw the crowd some red meat during his speech and seemed to enjoy being there.

So the ad contains elements of truth. However, it also takes McKenna's statements out of context and links him to positions he doesn't support. For those reasons, we find it mostly false.

Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or skelleher@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @susankelleher.

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