It looks like we may just have a real life "Distinguished Gentleman" situation on our hands. In the deeply unpopular but nevertheless memorable 1992 comedy, Eddie Murphy plays a Florida hustler named Thomas Jefferson Johnson who seizes upon the idea of running for Congress when his representative, who just happens to be named Jeff Johnson, dies in office. Dropping his first name, Murphy's character successfully runs for office on the slogan: "Jeff Johnson: The name you know."
Out in Seattle, the name they know is Jim McDermott, the Democratic congressman and progressive stalwart who has represented Washington's 7th District since 1989 and is retiring at the end of this year. His two seemingly most prominent successors are state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw and state Sen. Pramila Jayapal, and indeed, they've both raised the most money. But a third candidate in the race just happens to be King County Councilman Joe McDermott, and he's released a new poll of August's top-two primary from EMC Research that gives him a hefty 35 percent of the vote, with Jayapal and Walkinshaw far back at 9 and 7 points, respectively.
McDermott's pollsters tried to anticipate exactly our reaction by noting in their memo, "Survey respondents were also asked about incumbent Congressman Jim McDermott, so it is not the case that Joe McDermott's name ID is because people think he is Jim." Well, they can certainly wish for that to be so, but just because they asked a separate question on favorability ratings that included both Joe and Jim McDermott doesn't mean voters don't associate the two men. Indeed, Joe McDermott's reported name recognition is so much higher than Jayapal's or Walkinshaw's—and they are all similarly situated local elected officials—that it's hard not to imagine respondents are bestowing some McDermott love on the county councilman (who is not related to the congressman).
But so what if they are? Yeah, "Jeff" Johnson was a con artist, but Joe McDermott obviously isn’t, and there's nothing wrong with sharing a famous name. Naturally everyone running for office wants to win because of his or her own qualifications, but if the McDermott name helps Joe to earn a spot in the November general election, then that's simply democracy at work. Call it a bug rather than a feature, but there are many worse problems to worry about. And for all we know, it won't work: Jayapal and Walkinshaw are both well-regarded and will work hard to boost their own names ahead of the primary. The Distinguished Gentleman was, after all, just a movie.