WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2010 -- Long before there were Mama Grizzlies, Democrat Patty Murray was "just a mom in tennis shoes."
She still wears sensible shoes, but now Murray, the senior Senator from the state of Washington, is the highest ranking woman in the Senate, a member of her party's leadership with a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
No longer an outsider, she is now running for reelection in today's primary as a tough political insider who can get things done in Washington and bring home the bacon for her state -- not the best resume items this year when voters are so concerned about government spending. Republicans have taken to calling her names like "Pork Patty" and "Queen of Pork."
One Washington, D.C.-based political action group turned Murray's famous tennis shoes against her in a Web video, which shows a woman walking in a pair of tennis shoes that become muddy. The woman walks on the backs of people meant to represent small businesses.
But Murray also has some successes of the Obama administration to point to -- she is an important operative in the Senate. And she helped reverse a Pentagon decision to give a lucrative government contract to a European company and instead opened bidding to Boeing, an important win for Washington state.
Open Primary is Bellwether for Fall
Washington has an open primary system, so any registered voter can vote for any candidate and the top two vote getters, regardless of their party affiliation, move on to the general election in November. Murray has been in office since 1992, when she was elected as an outside-the-establishment candidate.
But because of the open primary, Murray will actually be going head-to-head with the three major Republican candidates in the race. Murray is expected to easily advance to the general election, but what percent of the vote she gets -- more or less than 50 percent -- could be a bellwether for the fall.
The open primary system is engineered to make political parties less important and give more moderate candidates a better chance at a place on the ballot in the fall. But in Washington this year, with Murray as the Democratic incumbent, there has been a fight among Republicans for the conservative voters.
Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Insider, Fights to Stay
Murray's chief rival is Dino Rossi, twice an unsuccessful candidate for statewide office in Washington. He lost a close race for governor to Christine Gregoire in 2004, and more decisively in a rematch against Gregoire in 2008. But as a result, voters know who he is. He is expected to win first or second place in the primary and square off against Murray in November.
Sarah Palin endorsed Clint Didier, a former Washington Redskin, who wants to return to the town where he won a Super Bowl in 1982. Didier now lives in Washington and is an alfalfa farmer. While Palin did not stump for Didier, she did record robo calls for him. Didier has run to the right of Rossi, both on social issues and the economy, forcing Rossi to take positions perhaps too far to the right for blue-leaning Washington in the general election. Rossi supports repealing both the Democrats' health reform law and Wall Street reform.
A third major Republican candidate is Paul Akers, a successful businessman who turned his idea for a self-adhesive screwcap into a successful company called Fastcap.
President Obama is stumping for Murray today as primary voters head to the polls. He holds a small business roundtable event and a fundraiser for Murray later in the day.
For an interesting aside, take a look at Goodspaceguy, a Democrat running for senate in the open primary. He has little chance of winning. His platform revolves around colonizing space. And he refers to people of earth as "sheeple."
From his website: "And I'm just some guy who has studied astronomy who advocates getting our orbital space colonies started. You have already paid the money, but we don't have the starter cololnies."