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Don't count KXLY anchor Nadine Woodward out of the mayoral race yet

When is a denial just an artfully crafted dodge?

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Or is she? - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO OF SPOKESMAN-REVIEW
  • Daniel Walters photo of Spokesman-Review
  • Or is she?

Spokane KXLY TV Anchor Nadine Woodward's picture was above the fold in the Spokesman-Review this morning beside the proclamation: "NOT RUNNING FOR MAYOR: Nadine Woodward, Michael Baumgartner claim no interest in City Hall."

The story's headline and subhead reiterated that sort of certainty: "Oft-mentioned names drop off list for mayor: Baumgartner, Parker and Woodward say they don't plan to run this year to replace Condon."

Sounds like a denial, right? Not so fast.

When you check out the actual text of the article, there's a lot more vagueness.

Woodward, who has had a 35-year-career in television news, said she had “no immediate plans” to run and intended to focus on her family’s video production business, Memories by Design, when she retires. Her last day on the air is Feb. 28.

Woodward said she is flattered that her name has been floated as a potential political candidate several times over the past decade, but her focus is on finishing her contract at KXLY.

Do an experiment: Ask your friends if they're running for mayor this year. How many use the phrase "no immediate plans?" Now, how many — other than current announced mayoral candidates Ben Stuckart, Kelly Cruz, Chris Schroll and Shawn Poole — respond with some variation of "hell no. Are you insane?"

There's long been a sort of coy dance between reporters and potential politicians about whether they're running for political office. For a number of reasons, including campaign finance restrictions, politicians who want to run for office don't want to announce early.

That goes double for, say, a TV anchor for a news station who has to cover the anchor's potential political opponents.

And the classic line politicians use is almost always some variation of "I'm flattered really, but right now I'm focused on serving my wonderful constituents, so I couldn't possibly weigh in on such an absurd hypothetical."

Nadine Woodward
  • Nadine Woodward
"I am not running for president in 2020. I am running for the Senate in 2018," Sen. Elizabeth Warren told reporters in August, stressing she was "focused on 2018 and I’m going to stay focused on 2018."

In December, she announced she was running for president.

Or check out New York Magazine's piece from 2013, listing all the times Hillary Clinton dodged questions about whether she was interested in running for president.

"'No plans' are classic political weasel words," noted the magazine, which also called out Clinton's repeated use of the classic '"too focused on what I’m doing' evasion."

Seeking a more explicit denial from Nadine Woodward, I texted her with this question: "Can you PROMISE me you're not running for Mayor this year?"

"I can promise you that for the next 2 months I'm a News Anchor and that is the entirety of my focus," Woodward responded.

I tried another variation: "You haven't been talking to donors, consultants or potential endorsers about the possibility of you running for Mayor this year?"

"I'm much too busy doing the job I have right now," she texted back.

That's a long way from the clear denials from former state Sen. Baumgartner or former state Rep. Kevin Parker.

Even a definitive denial can change with time. City Council President Stuckart told us he would "definitively not be running for mayor in 2019," a little over two years ago. Today, he's running for mayor. Plans change.
(On Monday night, meanwhile, Stuckart told the Inlander that he'd heard from three different people, second-hand, that Woodward did plan to run against him.)

On Thursday morning, the Spokesman-Review  issued a correction in print, acknowledging that its Wednesday headlines "incorrectly described what KXLY news anchor Nadie Woodward said about a potential run for Spokane mayor."

Currently, the web headline on the updated Spokesman-Review story describes Woodward's comments with a lot less certainty than in print: "Kevin Parker, Michael Baumgartner say they won’t run for Spokane mayor; KXLY anchor Nadine Woodward says she has ‘no immediate plans’"

Meanwhile, former state Sen. Michael Baumgartner has been teasing the possibility of a big-name conservative candidate entering the race.

Was that Nadine Woodward?

"I think a great candidate will announce in March," Baumgartner texted me on Monday evening when I asked whether Woodward was running.

When I noted that happens to be a day after Woodward planned to leave KXLY, Baumgartner did not respond.

In the Spokesman-Review, Baumgartner appeared to confirm that he was thinking of Woodward, telling the newspaper he would endorse Woodward if she ran. 

Michael Cathcart, executive director of the generally conservative Better Spokane political action group, tells the Inlander he reached out to Woodward several months ago and encouraged her to run for something.

"She said that her [KXLY] contract would make that tough," Cathcart says. "She's definitely interested in public service and would love to serve. It's a matter of timing."

Asked whether Woodward has been reaching out to donors or consultants, Cathcart says he's heard rumors and murmurings, but "that sort of exploration goes on every cycle."

Cathcart says he hopes she runs.

"We need a really good strong candidate," Cathcart says. "I will probably be reaching out to her again.'"

Cathcart says her advantage as a Spokane TV personality is an obvious one.

"She's been in people's living rooms in 30 years," Cathcart says. "They've gotten to know her, on some level, having that heart-to-heart conversation with people in the community."

After all, Inlander readers voted Woodward "Best Anchorperson" last year. You can't get a much better endorsement than that. 
On her Twitter feed, Woodward has been playful amid all the speculation.

"Now that I've announced my retirement from TV news... new job offers are rolling in. I will soon be #Spokane's first professional Margarita taster," Woodward joked on Twitter. "I should have retired a long time ago!"

Yet it's not unusual for TV personalities to try their hands at politics in Spokane.

KREM and KXLY veteran Daryl Romeyn ran against U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2010. Former KXLY and KREM reporter Tom Grant narrowly lost his race against Jim West for Spokane mayor in 2003. (Full disclosure: As a high school student, I attended more than one of Grant's mayoral campaign hotdog feeds.)

KXLY anchor and news director Ron Bair actually became Spokane mayor back in 1977. He may have wished he hadn't. During his term in office, he weathered Mount St. Helens, separated from his wife and struggled with finances on the meager mayoral salary. He opted not to run for re-election, kicking off a 40-year streak of one-term mayors.

So maybe it wasn't a surprise that, back in 2011, one potential mayoral candidate name kept being talked about: KXLY anchor Nadine Woodward.

"Woodward said she isn’t seriously considering a run for mayor but could not rule it out," the Spokesman-Review reported in March of 2011.

Despite that tantalizing non-denial, however, Woodward chose not to run that year, clearing the way for Mayor David Condon.

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