Worrisome Poll for Sen. Patty Murray’s Re-election Hopes?


Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

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.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Patty is Patty, and your column is not recognizing all the time and hard work she has put in being our Senator. Patty is a workhorse. She has represented our state well and has worked on the issues that affects “everyday” people. We will be there for her, she has been there for us…. As women and mothers and children and workers.

  2. Here on Whidbey Island where she resides and before the pandemic, she wears a large hat hat, big coat and covers her face; all to hide from the voters.
    I agree with the poll. Time to move on. 30 years is enough. I always vote Democratic but I’m done with her. While I never expected much from her, she has not, unlike former Senator’s became a masterd any particular issue.

  3. Patty led the charge on child tax credits (along with Connecticut Rep. Rosa delauro). As always the national press wrote about Patty as “the most powerful senator you’ve never heard about.” Like Maggie, she is a work horse (having 31 important bills to her credit) not a show horse.

    It’s true she needs a larger presence in her home state. But we would be losing powerful seniority if we thoughtlessly decided 30 years is enough. It’s interesting that senior male politicians are seldom tagged as over-the-hill; women who have aged, not so much.

  4. I certainly hope that she will do the right thing and resign and encourage Ferguson (or somebody else with energy) to run for office.
    She doesn’t look very healthy, by the way. Not in the least. Look at the expression on her face in photos.

  5. Long-serving politicians, from both genders, have run into trouble because of physical shape and ability to do the job. Sen. Warren Magnuson was at the height of his powers — he chaired Senate Appropriations Committee — when Maggie sought reelection in 1980 at age 75. An early poll for Magnuson’s campaign showed declining popularity. He was slowed by diabetes, A swing voter, my mother, opined: “I love the old boy but he can hardly walk anymore.” She voted for Slade Gorton, who had a great pair of legs.

  6. If Senator Murray is to have a real challenge, it will need to come from within her own Party.

    It took a bold move by Brady Walkinshaw, who filed against ossified, do-little Congressman-for-life Jim McDermott, to nudge McDermott out in 2016. Pramila Jayapal, who had only been elected to the State Senate in 2014, jumped into the race, as did County Councilmember Joe McDermott (who clearly hoped voters would not notice the slight name difference). Congresswoman Jayapal is clearly itching for the next step, as are myriad others on the VERY deep Democratic bench.

    We would be better served at all levels by more boldness and less incumbent protectionism.

  7. I would add that Sen. Murray left the door open to a challenge by skipping her vote on the ultra-important January 6 Insurrection Commission. While her press release claimed she was needed back home for a “family matter”, the pre-planned trip happened to fall in the same weekend she announced her re-election campaign.

  8. Time for Washington to move on.. Away from . Democrats. Your summer of love, Chaz zone, CRT are to much for an American state. But most of you forgot America. If I could leave, change or nuke this state. I’d do it. Before long, Seattle will be like Portland. “oh… Wait…. It already is. The illegals are also starting to move in. Seattle can develop there on little” Nicaragua “..!! Joe will be so proud. Murray is going away.

  9. Sen. Murray would probably only be vulnerable if she faces a serious intraparty challenger. The state Republican Party has already endorses a little-known candidate running on an insufficient platform and does not seem to be seriously contesting this race.

  10. The WA. St. Dems should be grooming younger candidates. Why must we send a 70 yo to Wash.? How do we expand our base and inspire the youth vote by sending another past retirement age person to WA. C’mon where is the strategy? The Party needs to wake up and quit taking the youth, the progressives and people of color for granted. White bread is so tired.

  11. Wow, you Ds are rough on old people. Will the great-grandma in tennis shoes out-survive Joe and make it to election day?


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