Washington Test for Sen. Patty Murray: From 'Mom in Tennis Shoes' to D.C. Power Broker

Sen. Patty Murray will face Republican Dino Rossi in the Fall

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2010 — -- Democratic Sen. Patty Murray will face Republican Dino Rossi in the Washington state Senate race in November. The two emerged as winners of an open primary Tuesday in Washington -- the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to the general election.

2010 Election Maps: Follow the Senate, House and Governors' Races

The final vote totals will not be known for some time, but with more than 50 percent of the precincts reporting, Murray had a commanding 46 to 34 percent lead over Rossi. Those numbers don't tell the whole story, however. Former NFL Redskin Clint Didier has 11 percent of the vote and other Republicans have less than 5 percent each. Add all the Republican votes and put them up against Murray for Democrats, the sides are tied. Republicans in blue Washington might even have the edge when the final tally is in.

The tight primary totals could foreshadow problems for Murray in November.

View More on Washington

Republicans were crowing about the results.

"The fact that an 18-year incumbent from a blue state who serves as a member of Senate leadership is struggling to get above 50 percent in an open primary speaks volumes about the current political environment in Washington State, and it speaks volumes about the opportunity that Republicans have this November with Dino Rossi as our party's nominee for the U.S. Senate," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in a memo published early Wednesday morning.

The vote totals for all Republican candidates are perhaps an imperfect indicator for the fall. Didier, for instance, has 11 percent of the vote and should be counted as a Republican. But he is more anti-war than Murray these days. She was among the Senators who voted against the war in Iraq, but has consistently voted in favor of war funding under President Obama.

It has been a long political journey for Patty Murray, first elected to the Senate in 1992.

Long before there were Mama Grizzlies, Murray was "just a mom in tennis shoes."

She still wears sensible shoes, but now Murray, the senior Senator is the highest-ranking woman in the Senate, a member of her party's leadership with a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

2010 Election Maps: Follow the Senate, House and Governors' Races

No longer an outsider, she is now running for reelectionas 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's open primary system created a general election feel, with Murray actually going head-to-head with the three major Republican candidates in the race. Republicans will read her inability to get 50 percent of the vote as a sign of weakness. But Democrats will argue that Republican voters were more likely to turn out for the primary this year.

2010 Election Maps: Follow the Senate, House and Governors' Races

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. Rossi emerged victorious, but the challenging primary forced him 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.

Rossi was twice before 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.

2010 Election Maps: Follow the Senate, House and Governors' Races

President Obama stumped for Murray Tuesday as primary voters completed their ballots, although most in Washington are returned by mail. The president held both a small business roundtable event featuring Murray and a fundraiser for her later in the day.

Another side-effect of the open primary is a group of offbeat candidates on the ballot. For an interesting aside, take a look at Goodspaceguy, a Democrat who ran for senate in the open primary. His platform revolved around colonizing space. And in campaign literature 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 colonies."

Goodspaceguy was below 5,000 votes on the night at posting time.