Washington State has a history as a dark blue locale, a well-deserved reputation as a politically dark blue locale, virtually incapable of electing Republicans to major statewide offices, or to a majority of congressional seats. But with the GOP emboldened by a sour economy, long-term high rates of unemployment, and voters concerned about the deficit and national debt, political operative groupthink is now tending towards the view that a Republican wave will sweep Democrats out of office, including in places like the Evergreen State this year. Tuesday’s top-two, “jungle” primary results offered an indicator of why Washington Republicans seeking to oust incumbent senior senator Patty Murray might just have good cause to cheer, with just over two months to go until Election Day.
Murray, who is currently serving out her third term in the Senate and acts as Harry Reid’s number four in Senate Democratic leadership, failed to reach the 50 percent mark Tuesday in a contest where she had no serious Democratic competition — but plenty of Republicans on the ballot.
Moreover, the most well-known among them, her months-ago predetermined general election opponent Dino Rossi, took just under 34 percent of the vote to Murray’s 46 percent — a tally best described as too close for comfort.
Even worse for Murray, when the votes cast by supporters of other Republicans — namely former Washington Redskins player and Tea Party favorite Clint Didier (who garnered about 12 percent of the vote) and businessman Paul Akers (who garnered about 2.5 percent) — were added to Rossi’s total, Republicans collectively bested Murray’s take of the vote, 48 percent to 46.
Those are numbers bound to leave Murray scared, especially given the overall trends taking shape: The progressive base is in the doldrums, independents are abandoning Democrats, and rarely do you meet a voter who associates anything positive with Washington, D.C. Of course, Murray’s consultants and the DSCC have known for a long time that as it stands, she is no shoo-in for re-election. According to the latest SurveyUSA polling, only 41 percent of adults surveyed approve of the job she is doing, while 54 percent disapprove. Even in the metropolitan Seattle area, from which Murray hails, only 43 percent gave her a thumbs up — perhaps little surprise when the unemployment rate statewide is running at 8.9 percent and worries about the economy, as they do everywhere, trump other considerations.
Murray has been in a particularly strong position, given her role in Senate leadership, to ameliorate all this. Yet she has not. Meanwhile, she has raked in close to $1 million over recent years from lawyers and lobbyists, her top two contributors according to OpenSecrets.org. As November nears, expect voters to ask more and more “what has she done for me?” and for the Rossi camp to reply “nothing” — or “nothing good.” Whether voters actively decide to take a chance on Rossi or just chuck their ballots in the recycle bin, the result could be the same: Patty out, Dino in.
Setting aside Murray’s actual share of the vote, her weak showing in Tuesday’s primary, 440,119 votes as at the time of writing, constitutes a warning sign that all is not well Chez Patty. So do those 140,192 votes she garnered in King County, the most consistently liberal portion of the state. When running in the 2008 primary, also of the top-two, “jungle” variety and against Rossi, Gov. Christine Gregoire managed to secure 696,306 votes statewide, 216,185 in King County. It is possible that Gregoire and her allies invested more than did Murray in get-out-the-vote efforts aimed at a primary where, again, the result had been predetermined months in advance. But Murray allies such as labor unions have a lot riding on her re-election, and have not exactly been thoroughly inactive to date. The failure of Murray to drive a similar number of votes as Gregoire did in 2008 in King County very possibly signals an enthusiasm problem afflicting her base, especially when viewed through the prism of those low approval ratings, including in metropolitan Seattle.
In a state where the overwhelming majority of voters vote by mail, Murray’s “ask” of Democrats and Democrat-minded independents will prove easier than that of some Democrats running this cycle. And to be sure, Washington is not Pennsylvania, Murray is tougher than she looks, and the DSCC has from early this year demonstrated a willingness to play dirty in order to prop her up. But with virtually every number going showing Murray in trouble, despite all this, it’s quite possible that the woman who first ran as “just” the “Mom in Tennis Shoes” may be headed back to where she came from, both geographically and professionally, come November 3.