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April 25, 2012 at 5:25 PM

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Rob McKenna snaps at Democratic questioner on abortion bill: "Go get a job"

At nearly every public campaign event, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna is shadowed by Democratic Party operatives.

They record his statements or press him with uncomfortable questions, hoping for a gaffe like former Virginia Sen. George Allen's infamous "Macaca" moment in 2006.

It's been a common practice in politics for years and most politicians have learned to blow off such tracking efforts. But on Tuesday, McKenna appeared to let it get under his skin.

As he was leaving a conference on fisheries in downtown Seattle, McKenna was followed by Kendra Obom, a volunteer for the state Democratic Party. She asked McKenna's position on a bill known as the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require insurance plans funded or administered by the state to cover abortions if they cover maternity care.

McKenna first suggested he couldn't answer the question as Attorney General, and then berated Obom, who identified herself as a "youth worker who is wondering." McKenna said Obom wasn't being "honest" and was trying to "bushwhack" him.

Walking away, he told Obom to "You're just trying to gain a political advantage, sorry. Why don't you go get a job."

Should McKenna have reacted differently? Watch video of the encounter for yourself:

Democrats and abortion rights groups held a news conference Wednesday to express outrage over the encounter (even though it gave them just what they wanted). They pointed out Obom does have a job - she works with the YMCA on youth programs.

This will be an ongoing theme in the governor's race as Democrats try to portray McKenna as a right-wing extremist. McKenna's Democratic rival, ex-Congressman Jay Inslee, has said he supports the proposal and has been endorsed by abortion rights groups.

While McKenna's campaign regarded Tuesday's encounter as a cheap Democratic stunt, he released a statement saying he opposes the Reproductive Parity Act because it could jeopardize federal funds.

"I support our existing, voter-approved state law which guarantees women access to insurance coverage for reproductive healthcare. I do not support changing the law in a way that could put federal funding of women's healthcare at risk," McKenna said in the statement.

That was a reference to a federal law, the Weldon Amendment, that allows the federal government to withhold funds from local governments that discriminate against insurers who object to abortion.

But supporters of the Reproductive Parity Act, which didn't pass the Legislature this past session, note it was drafted to avoid that problem - it would be suspended in any instance in which it might violate the Weldon Act.

McKenna spokesman Charles McCray said that only proves the entire issue has been "manufactured" to distract media attention from McKenna's "winning message on education reform, installing a lean state government, and improving our economy."


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