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Originally published October 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 27, 2008 at 4:04 PM

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Burner, Reichert rumble over résumés

Now it's U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert's turn to answer questions about his education credentials. Numerous Web sites misrepresented Republican...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Now it's U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert's turn to answer questions about his education credentials.

Numerous Web sites misrepresented Republican Reichert's two-year associate degree as a bachelor's degree. None of the sites are affiliated with his campaign.

Reichert's opponent, Democrat Darcy Burner, pointed out the incorrect Web sites Thursday, a day after The Seattle Times reported that Burner said at two recent debates that she has an economics degree. She has a computer-science degree from Harvard with a "special field," or emphasis, in economics.

Her campaign says the emphasis is roughly equivalent to a minor in the subject, but a Harvard official says it's not a degree in economics.

Burner and Reichert are locked in a close race in the 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of eastern King and Pierce counties.

At least five Web sites, including a government-sponsored congressional directory at bioguide.congress.gov, listed Reichert's education as "B.A., Concordia Lutheran College, Portland, Oregon."

It wasn't immediately clear where the wrong information came from. Reichert's congressional office was taking steps Thursday to correct the errors.

The congressional directory gets its information from public sources, such as newspapers. Editors at the Web site said their sources of information about Reichert were a Washington Post Web site biography and a 2004 issue of "The Hill," a congressional newspaper.

A separate congressional directory, which is distributed in print, contains correct information about his education.

In a news release, Burner's campaign spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik, called for an immediate retraction and apology from Reichert. In an interview, he said it appeared Reichert had neglected to fix the error in order to leave the false impression he was more well-educated than he is.

Reichert's campaign manager, Mike Shields, says he didn't even know the errors existed.

The tit-for-tat is common in modern campaigns as candidates fight for "free media" — coverage by newspapers and other news sources, said John Gastil, a professor of political communication at the University of Washington.

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"If you're running for Congress, any darn excuse you have to get into the newspaper is worth trying," he said. The National Republican Congressional Committee provided the tip about Burner's degree.

Gastil noted that Burner and Reichert have largely stuck to "substantive arguments" about issues rather than personal attacks.

Following reports about Burner's degree, her campaign was quick to respond with their own questions about Reichert's character. By Thursday morning, they sent a news release questioning Reichert's honesty.

"This claim that Congressman Reichert has a four-year B.A. degree has been up on that Web site for years, and neither Congressman Reichert nor his campaign have made any effort to correct the record," said Kaushik, of the Burner campaign. "Certainly it appears that they were happy to leave this false impression that he had a four-year B.A. degree."

A spokeswoman at Concordia University, Jeanie-Marie Price, confirmed that Reichert has a two-year associate degree, which he earned in 1970 while attending the college on a football scholarship. The school only offered two-year degrees at the time.

When Reichert attended, the college was called Concordia College. Now it's called Concordia University. It is a Lutheran university.

Reichert, a former King County sheriff and two-term Republican incumbent, has never made a big deal about his degree.

His campaign and congressional Web sites say he "graduated from Concordia Lutheran College." They don't mention what kind of degree he earned.

"We've never told anyone it's anything but an A.A.," said Shields, Reichert's campaign manager. "In fact, he talks in speeches and says 'A.A.' all the time, because it's part of his story."

With less than two weeks to go before the election and three recent polls showing Burner ahead for the first time, both campaigns were making the most of the degree controversy Thursday.

Reichert's campaign and the national Republican Party sent out several press releases touting the story, and Burner's supporters from all over the country rallied around her, posting thousands of comments to blog threads and sending hundreds of e-mails.

Kaushik said in his news release that Reichert was trying to "discredit Darcy Burner with a technical gotcha about how she has characterized her degree from Harvard."

At least one national blog, Dailykos, used the opportunity to raise more money for Burner. It had raised nearly $45,000 for her campaign by late Thursday afternoon.

Burner's candidacy has been bolstered by the national support of the so-called "Netroots," a progressive community of blogs that support her.

With their help, she has consistently raised more money than Reichert for the past year and a half, both online and from mainstream Democratic sources.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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