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.