Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has gained ground in every corner of Spokane County as ballots have trickled in since election night and extended a district-wide lead that remains within striking distance for challenger Lisa Brown.

Among differences in this year’s election is the tenor of the campaign. McMorris Rodgers began airing negative ads painting Brown as a western Washington liberal early in the contest, before primary ballots had even hit mailboxes. Brown has responded with ads of her own criticizing McMorris Rodgers chiefly for her votes on health care.

It’s difficult to say what effect those ads had on Brown’s share of the late vote total, said Travis Ridout, professor of political science at Washington State University in Pullman.

“It is complicated, and it’s hard to untangle,” Ridout said. “I think there is some research that suggests that when people are exposed to negativity about a candidate, that they’re less enthusiastic about voting for that candidate.”

The McMorris Rodgers ads, attacking Brown’s record on taxes and public safety, probably didn’t sway those who had their minds made up to cast ballots for the Democrat, Ridout said. But for those who were still undecided and leaning toward Brown, the ads may have dissuaded them not to vote at all, he said, which could account for the difference in late numbers between her and McMorris Rodgers.

“People who are exposed to a lot of negative information about a candidate they already support, they’re more likely to just not vote,” he said.

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