No, he's not insane. The conversation with the white, size 7 sneakers is the closest the Republican has been able to get to a face-to-face debate with his opponent, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, the Democrat originally elected as the "mom in tennis shoes."
Nethercutt's campaign has grown increasingly frustrated with Murray's refusal to agree to more than two debates before the Nov. 2 election. Lately, he's resorted to publicity stunts to make his point — hence, the tennis-shoe gag and an earlier attempt to challenge Murray to a debate at an airport baggage-claim area.
The antics point to a serious issue, Nethercutt says.
Adopting a classic front-runner strategy, Murray has declined numerous debate invitations and has yet to appear opposite Nethercutt at a single candidate forum. She has agreed to debates next Friday in Spokane and Oct. 20 in Seattle.
"It's a conservative strategy for them and I think kind of cynical," said Tom Mason, Nethercutt's campaign manager. "We think that the voters of Washington are well served by a free and open exchange of ideas."
Without more debates, Mason said the campaign would amount to a war of press releases and television ads.
Murray's campaign responds that she has been busy. Congress is winding up its fall session and Murray has been in Washington, D.C., voting on legislation most weekdays. Nethercutt, meanwhile, has missed nearly 50 votes since last month to remain in the state and campaign.
"Senator Murray is in D.C. doing her job. Nethercutt is skipping important votes and engaging in childish political stunts," said Murray spokeswoman Alex Glass.
The "too busy" excuse will fade this week. Congress is expected to adjourn by the weekend and Murray has spurned several debate offers for later this month.
She has refused, for example, to accept debates offered by the Seattle Rotary Club; The News Tribune of Tacoma and KIRO television; and the League of Women Voters in the Tri-Cities.
Candidates for the state's other high-profile races have agreed to more face-to-face meetings.
In the race for governor, Democrat Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi already have appeared in one televised debate. Three more are scheduled.
Though both candidates have criticized each other for backing out of several joint appearances, the four debates will be one more than were held during the 2000 gubernatorial race.
In the closely watched 8th Congressional District, Democrat Dave Ross and Republican Dave Reichert have debated three times, and a fourth debate is set for Tuesday at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center.
In an interview on the night of the September primary, Murray said the two debates she had consented to would both be televised, giving voters plenty of chance to see where she and Nethercutt stand on the issues.
She said that's more than the single televised debate Sen. Slade Gorton agreed to in 2000. (Republican Gorton and Democrat Maria Cantwell met for three debates, but only one was televised.)
Murray relied on the same debate-dodging strategy in her first re-election campaign in 1998, agreeing to only a single debate with Republican challenger Linda Smith. Then, as this year, Murray rejected dozens of invitations to debate.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com