In Washington state, Republicans see a chance to swing a key Senate seat their way. Yet despite the media narrative of how vulnerable Democratic incumbents are, Republican challenger Dino Rossi still has work to do against Sen. Patty Murray. After both candidates won easy primaries on Aug. 17, they have turned their attention toward a close general election.
Candidates for Washington’s Senate Seat (six-year term)
Candidate: Patty Murray (incumbent)
Political experience: Murray is seeking her fourth term in the U.S. Senate, after starting out in the PTA and school board. She became a state senator in 1988, then became the first female U.S. senator from Washington in 1992, despite being outspent by House Rep. Rod Chandler.
According to GovTrack, Murray chairs the Transportation, House and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee, as well as the Employment and Workplace Safety subcommittee. In addition, she is the first woman to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee.
Professional experience: According to Murray’s Senate website, she started out by leading a grassroots campaign to save a preschool from budget cuts in the 1980s. This propelled her to become the local school board president, before running another grassroots campaign for state senate. As the daughter of a disabled WWII veteran, she worked in a Seattle VA hospital during college.
Key issues: Sen. Murray got her start in education, and she has continued to fight for it in the Senate. She sponsored S.2887 to hire qualified teachers and reduce class size, and she has worked closely on “No Child Left Behind.” In 1994, she passed the famed Violence Against Women Act, which she has renewed twice.
In 2007, she passed S. 520 (Wild Sky Wilderness Act of 2007) after nine years of work, protecting 106,000 acres of land. Her activism on behalf of veterans has led her to open health clinics and expand VA facilities. She also helped make a difference in ports and cargo security by co-authoring the SAFE Ports Act.
Endorsements: Murray’s campaign website advertises endorsements from EMILY’s List, VETPAC, People for the American Way and the SEIU Washington State Council. According to Open Secret, ActBlue is her largest campaign contributor, with more than $130,000 donated.
Chances of maintaining her seat: This may be Murray’s most difficult election by far, as she has won her last three fairly easily, with more than 50 percent of the vote each time. She is ahead in the polls so far, but she is only up by four points as of Aug. 18, according to Rasmussen Reports. Democrats have had a good grip on Washington state for some time, along with Murray, so she is still the favorite to win. Anti-incumbent trends might not work on her, as her grassroots rise to power doesn’t make her a typical establishment candidate.
Candidate: Dino Rossi
Political experience: Rossi served in the Washington state senate from 1997 to 2003, representing east King County’s 5th District. He balanced the state budget as Senate Ways & Means Committee chairman in 2003, then ran for governor the next year. However, he lost after three vote counts to Christine Gregoire, falling 129 votes shy of victory. Rossi ran again four years later, but this time, Gregoire easily defeated him.
Professional experience: According to Rossi’s website, he started out in the commercial real estate business after graduation — and worked as a janitor on the Space Needle while earning his business degree. He wrote a book and founded the Forward Washington Foundation after losing the 2004 governor’s race.
After losing in 2008, he went back to real estate at Coast Equity Partners in Everett, Wash., before returning to politics. Rossi currently serves as a Secretary of the Board for the Washington Special Olympics, and he is part of the Dean’s Advisory Board at Seattle University’s School of Business.
Key issues: Rossi’s website states that he was inspired to run for Senate because of the “massive spending bills and government expansion” that Congress approved. He plans to get the health care bill repealed, extend the Bush tax cuts, develop renewable energy, expand border protection and promote job creation.
Endorsements: According to Open Secrets, 85 percent of Rossi’s donations are from individuals, with only 5 percent from political action committees. Clint Didier, who lost to Rossi in the primary, could bring the Tea Party to Rossi’s side, but he has first demanded that he commit against abortion, tax increases and federal spending.
Chances of unseating Patty Murray: Rossi has come very close to winning elections in the last several years, but he has fallen short. To get over the hump, he has to unite Republicans and tap into anti-incumbent sentiment. But Washington has been a solid Democratic state for some time, so Rossi has to attract many new Republican voters in order to make up the deficit. The fact that this may be a much closer battle than Murray’s previous elections is an encouraging sign, however.
Key differences: Murray supposed the economic stimulus and health care expansion, while Rossi wants to repeal both. They both support developing alternative energy, but Rossi opposes “job-killing energy taxes like cap and trade.” While Murray believes the tax system can help foster “overall economic expansion,” Rossi believes employees and individuals have been given a heavy tax burden. Murray has a lot to say about education, but Rossi’s website doesn’t list it among his issues.
Last results: The last time this seat was up for grabs, Murray won against George R. Nethercutt, Jr., with 55 percent of the vote. In 2006, incumbent Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell won by nearly 17 points over Mike McGavick.
Demographics: According to InfoPlease, Washington is 50.2 percent female. The state is 81.8 percent white, 5.5 percent Asian, 3.6 biracial and 3.2 percent African American.