A statewide poll, conducted for a group with strong Democratic leanings, gives Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a less-than-robust job approval rating of 40 percent, with 36 percent disapproving of the incumbent of nearly 30 years. Murray is up for reelection in 2022 and has announced that she will seek a sixth term.
Twenty-four percent of those surveyed were undecided or did not have an opinion on the “mom in tennis shoes” elected back in 1992. The poll showed Murray with a 53-37 percent lead over announced Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley.
The same survey, by Public Policy Polling, gives President Biden a 54-41 percent approval/disapproval breakdown, tracking almost exactly with national polls. At no point in his four-year presidency did Donald Trump top 50 percent thumbs-up in either state or national polling.
The country’s divisions are reflected in regional breakdowns on the job Biden is doing. He gets a robust 70-23 approval/disapproval breakdown in populous King County, which Biden carried last November with almost three-quarters of the vote. Both Biden and Gov. Jay Inslee came out of King County with half-million-vote margins.
Biden gets favorable 54-42 percent margins in North Puget Sound and a 55-40 percent approval/disapproval score on the Olympic Peninsula and in Southwest Washington. Predictably, Biden does less well in Eastern and Central Washington, being on the short end of a 41-57 approval/disapproval rating. Not surprising in that Biden carried just one jurisdiction – Whitman County – east of the Cascade Crest. One big surprise: Biden gets only 40 percent job approval in South Pierce County, where the bulk of the population lives. He carried Pierce County by an 11-point margin last November.
The survey of 992 voters was done May 25-26 by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute. NPI is left-of-center as its name suggests and has spent years fighting against initiative promoter Tim Eyman. Its executive director, Andrew Villeneuve, has been a Democratic National Convention delegate and panel leader at the annual Net Roots Nation conference. Despite Democratic origins in its past, Public Policy Polling gets an “A-minus” grade in the latest rating of national polling firms by the 538.com web site. It had a record of being quick to report declines in President Obama’s approval ratings, which led to subsequent “shellacking” (Obama’s word) received by Democrats in the 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections.
The NPI’s Villeneuve has written that Murray has a “strong early lead” in her 2022 reelection race and is in a “robust” position. Still, a 40 percent approval rating is not-so-robust for the longest-serving member of Washington’s congressional delegation. Murray has been far less visible of late, even before outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The once-accessible senator has appeared almost exclusively at staged events with people who approve of the job she’s doing. The NPI has not released regional breakdowns of her approval scores, leading to the surmise that she, too, is weak in Pierce County. (Writer’s note: Villeneuve is a personal friend.)
The state’s long-dominant Democrats have successfully employed a wait-your-turn approach to those hankering for higher office. Two gubernatorial aspirants – state AG Bob Ferguson and Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz – hastily backed off when Inslee returned from the presidential campaign trail and announced he would seek a third term as Governor.
The exception is West Seattle’s aggressive, progressive State Sen. Joe Nguyen, who is taking on fellow Democrat Dow Constantine for King County Executive. “Low-drama Dow” has held the post since being elected in 2009 and faced only token opposition in 2013 and 2017. But Nguyen has already collected endorsements from seven fellow legislators, several Democratic district organizations, and the King County Young Democrats.
Tiffany Smiley of Pasco, a Republican running against Murray, is a former triage nurse who became a nationally known veterans advocate after her husband Scotty was blinded by a suicide bomber while serving in Iraq. She announced last month with support from the Washington State Republican Party and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
Murray is a longtime member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and chair of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Murray has already beaten three incumbent Republican House members during her career in Congress’ upper chamber. She won a handy reelection victory in 1998 after panelists on TV’s McLaughlin Group predicted that GOP Rep. Linda Smith would be Washington’s next Senator. She was targeted for defeat by Republicans in 2004 and 2010, winning both elections.
But a 40 percent job approval rating is an early cloud on the horizon.