Good News (and Polling Numbers) for Patty Murray


Sen. Patty Murray is up by 11 points and has even slightly expanded her lead over Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley during a rough time for the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden, according to a new statewide survey taken by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute.

Seeking her sixth term, to a seat once held for six terms by the late Sen. Warren Magnuson, the 70-year-old Murray is up with a TV blitz on morning news programs, depicting her as a defender of the middle class and American jobs.

A February poll by PPP showed Murray nine points ahead of Smiley, 50-41 percent, at which time the Cook Political Report lowered its rating of the Washington race from “Solid” to “Leans Democratic.” The Murray political team immediately arrived to study a breakdown. The Smiley campaign touted the poll in its daily email fundraising blasts.

The latest trip into the field finds a stabilized race, Murray ahead 51-40 with 8 percent undecided.  She cops a 45 percent job approval rating, with 42 percent of a big (2,022 voters) survey giving her a thumbs down. Of the new findings, in the words of the Northwest Progressive Institute’s Andrew Villeneuve, “Tiffany Smiley has excited the Republican base and raised a lot of money but has not succeeded in putting Washington State in play for the Republican Party this cycle.”

Villeneuve is a yellow dog Democrat, and Public Policy Polling has Democratic roots.  Yet, in polling for the liberal Daily Kos website, it accurately tracked downturns in President Obama’s approval ratings and predicted the “shellackings” (his word) that Obama’s party received in the 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections.

Keep in mind that Sen. Murray has won reelection twice (in years 2004 and 2016) when a Republican was capturing the White House. And remember that early promising Republic challengers, such as Rep. George Nethercutt in 2004, have come up lame in the stretch. The talking heads on TV’s McLaughlin Group predicted in 1998 that Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., would unset Murray, a year when Murray won with 58 percent of the vote.

Murray was also one of five Democratic senators from the West to hold onto their seats and hold onto the Democrat’s Senate majority in 2010.  Mitch McConnell not only recruited her GOP challenger, Dino Rossi, but sent a top press aide to handle his media.

How to explain the good news in PPP’s survey this week? For one, the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft, overturning Roe v. Wade, shows signs of energizing the Democrats’ base.  Washington state voters agreed to legalize abortion three years before the Supremes handed down their seminal 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion.  Also, Sen. Murray is never more energized than when she appears at Planned Parenthood’s clinic on East Madison Street and defends women’s right to choose.

Less accessible of late, shielded by staff, and busy as a member of the Democrats’ Senate leadership, Sen. Murray needs a “gut” issue to rouse her and her supporters.

Another factor is the Republican’s track record in challenging Democratic senators. The Smiley campaign could put Washington in play, but only if Republican consultants ever learn how to play here.  Such outfits as the Republican Governors Assn. have wasted millions of dollars airing cookie-cutter commercials reflecting national GOP themes.  Rarely is there any connection with state issues. So far, Smiley’s money appeals till familiar ground, e.g.: “Even as far back as 1997, Murray was one of just 15 Democratic senators to urge President Clinton to forgo tax cuts.”

The same pitch said Murray “has sat silent and done nothing” about the baby formula shortage, when network TV was filming the senator excoriating the Biden Administration for its slow response and telling Joe to get moving.  She can do that as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The Republicans could be intending only to tie down Murray and make her spend money here.  Six years ago, cruising to victory, Murray shipped $1 million off to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.  If a landslide looms, McConnell & Co. could make a late push for Democratic-leaning seats, targeting Sen. Murray and Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce made an 11th hour donation of $997,000 to Dino Rossi in 2010, and Karl Rove’s dark money PAC Crossroads GPS flooded the state with direct mail.

Nonetheless, Washington likes to elect long-tenured senators.  Magnuson and Sen. Henry Jackson served together for 28 years.  Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell have now been in office for more than two decades. Not since Slade Gorton was reelected in 1994 has the Evergreen State sent a Republican to the Senate.  

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and 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. Senator Murray’s tenure, i.e., her entrenched Federal-centric government perspective, makes the case for the repeal of the 17th Amendment. The 17th Amendment provided for the direct election of US senators which, in turn, has made senators less accountable to their individual state houses (state legislatures).

    Thus, Senator Murray ‘comes home’ once every 6 years to campaign for popular re-election. In the in-between years her focus is consistently on her ‘pet rock’ priorities, which is too often involve an otherly agenda. If Senator Murray is not able/willing to represent Washington State’s interests, then she should step aside.

  2. Helpful and hopeful assessment of Senator Murray’s re-election campaign. She has consistently delivered for our state and nation on issues and needs common to rural and urban communities. Smiley has struggled to deliver a message that would attract our more independent voters. She also fails to answer questions at about the big election lie, gun safety, and climate change. Her campaign is proof of the narrow litmus test any GOP candidate seems to have with the sad state of our state Republican Party.

  3. Ever since 95 year old Carl Hayden was re-elected to the Senate from Arizona back 40 or so years ago, we have seen an increasing trend of fossilized politicians in their dotage returned to office time and again. Murray has long outlived whatever usefulness she may have had.

    But she will be re-elected forever, maybe for 3 or 4 more terms. And we will always be able to count on “blue, no matter who,” writers like Joel Connelly to excuse every fault and praise her to the skies.

    We live in a one party state.

  4. We need change. Insanity is sending the same people to Washington and expecting a different result. Oh and Olympia too.

  5. When he challenged 36-year incumbent Sen. Warren Magnuson in 1980, Slade Gorton ran on the slogan: “Washington’s next great senator.” The message allowed that Maggie had done good things, but argued it was time to move on. It resonated, witness words from my mother: “I love the old guy but he can hardly walk anymore. This man seems constructive and competent.” She voted for Slade.
    I’ve written critically about Sen. Murray, recently took her to woodshed for total lack of town meetings, and wrote last year that insularity might lead to vulnerability. It’s equally true, and we’ve seen it here, that an incumbent can get revitalized. The revoking of Roe v. Wade, in pending Supreme Court case, puts a spotlight on Murray as defender of a woman’s right to choose.
    Peter Lombardi can rant all he wants, at me and Murray and whoever else. My sense is that such rants, relentlessly negative and often personal, do no help to his cause. Nor do the daily email blasts I receive from the Tiffany Smiley campaign. They’re consultant-crafted nastiness. Nothing on how a new Senator would listen to us, what issues she/he would tackle, where she/he would show independence from the party line.
    If you want an incumbent out, show us the alternative. Gorton did.

    • Perfect response Joel. Senator Murray does get things done and is clearly energized by recent events. Meanwhile the GOP is unable to provide a reasonable can-do candidate with thoughtful approach to governing. Thanks

  6. On the basis of her terrible constituent service—presented with a strong proposal to help homeless mothers and their children, she passed it off to a junior staffer who did nothing—I’d give her a high disapproval rating. But this year, i’m forced to vote for her to keep the Senate in Democratic hands.


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