U.S. Senate contest could use a jolt of electricity

For much of our state’s recent political history, colorful and exciting top-of-the-ticket races have been a staple of the electoral landscape. Consider the Slade Gorton/Maria Cantwell battle of 2000, the epic Christine Gregoire/Dino Rossi slugfests in 2004 and 2008, George Nethercutt’s challenge to Patty Murray in 2004, or Mike McGavick’s attempt to unseat Maria Cantwell in 2006.

This year, Patty Murray is seeking a third term. Surprisingly, no Republican front-runner has emerged, despite Republicans’ insistence that Murray is vulnerable. To date, Murray’s Republican challengers include a former Redskins tightend (Clint Didier) a physician (Art Coday) and a state senator from Vancouver (Don Benton), among many others. The growing Republican field of unknowns has become the subject of jokes at recent Murray campaign events. At one of them – a well attended breakfast featuring Vice President Joe Biden – Jay Inslee quipped, “Basically there’s our Patty Murray [and] their seven Republicans … that’s an intellectual even match.”

“I don’t care if they run seven R’s, or seventeen, or seventy, or seven hundred… Patty Murray will remain the senior senator from the State of Washington,” he added.

Perhaps. Republicans have a tradition, in Bush-speak, of “misunderestimating” Murray. She has twice triumphed over Republicans who had decided to leave the U.S. House to challenge her. That doesn’t mean she’s invulnerable. Voters here have been known to punish complacency; they’ll decide whether she deserves another term in office. But Murray is evidently not as weak as Republicans say she is, or she would have drawn a more credible opponent by now.

Former Republican Party Chair Chris Vance and Seattle Times editorial writer Joni Balter have lately become fond of fantasizing about a Dino Rossi for Senate campaign, and Republicans have been doing polls to obtain numbers on a hypothetical Murray/Rossi matchup. Rossi remains uncommitted. Vance has also suggested the possibility that Susan Hutchsion or Dave Reichert could jump in against Murray. Neither has shown any inclination that they are even seriously thinking about doing so. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. Spring has arrived, and the countdown to the filing period is changing from months to weeks.

Murray, for her part, is not sitting still. In early February, as mentioned earlier, her campaign brought Vice President Joe Biden to Seattle and drew 1,200 people to a breakfast that raised a boatload of cash. The event demonstrated that Murray retains a base of support that other politicians can only dream about, which is ready to back her even in a tumultuous and volatile election year.

Murray was also well-received at the Washington State Democrats’ annual crab feed in Lacey, though it’s clear her stump speech needs to be overhauled. My diagnosis: Swap out the platitudes for stories, trade the repackaged applause lines from yesteryear for timely zingers, and give it a bold, uplifting theme to brighten the spirits of discouraged activists tired of the gridlock in the District of Columbia. Murray needs to inspire her base to make the phone calls and host the house parties. She must convince voters she’s got the energy and the endurance to keep fighting for the values of This Washington in That Washington. Republicans, meanwhile, have the arduous task of persuading voters they should oust the state’s provider. For that is who Patty Murray is. From her position on the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, she has successfully steered billions of dollars to Washington State over the years.

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute. Reach him at andrew@nwprogressive.org.

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