The latest release from Senator Patty Murray’s reelection committee bespeaks not the “mom in tennis shoes” citizen leader we elected thirty years ago, but an entrenched veteran incumbent sitting on a big war chest.
Its header: “Patty Murray raises more than $1.45 million in Q4, continues to draw strong support across Washington.” It goes on to report that Murray went into 2022 with $6.93 million in the bank. It lists her average online contribution as $25.77, but does not mention the bigger bucks collected at fundraisers.
Senator Murray continues to fight for healthcare, childcare, housing and education, as the release tells us in a boilerplate quote.
Yet, the senator’s voice is not really heard, and Murray is seen less often back on the home front than was once the case. Releases on campaign cash are about all we’re hearing from the campaign side of Murray’s operation these days.
I miss a senator elected and reelected as one of us, and out among us.
A scene comes to mind back from Murray’s third term bid. She was flying home from a labor rally in Spokane, accompanied just by her state director.
Sensing his nervousness, Murray sent the aide off to a corner to answer all his mobile messages. She stood unaccompanied in the airport waiting area. A variety of folks felt at ease walking up and talking casually to their senior U.S. senator.
(Alaska’s late flight to Seattle, as usual, was running late.)
I eyed one fellow, thinking he might be the instigator of an argument. Instead, he extended a hand to Murray and apologized for the attack ads used by his congressman – Representative George Nethercutt – campaigning against her.
Murray began that race as a top target of the National Republican Senatorial Committee with Republican surrogates shuttling through.
The race ended with Nethercutt airing “Aw shucks, I’m a nice guy” television spots, conceding he was headed off to the Palookaville of D.C. lobbying.
We can still witness Northwest senators in such settings.
Just go south to Oregon, where Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have held hundreds of town meetings over the last few years.
NPI’s executive director Andrew Villeneuve witnessed one of them, in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, in 2017. He then spoke extemporaneously with Wyden at length as they waited for a Seattle-bound flight out of Walla Walla.
Senior senators can allow themselves be kept in a protective cocoon, especially as they get on in years. Trying to cover Murray for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I repeatedly asked for a schedule, so I could show up and watch her in the field.
“Thank you for reaching out!” the press secretary would email back.
And then he would stonewall me.
The senator’s infrequent public events seem scripted and reminiscent of daytime TV’s old “Queen for a Day” show.
A panel of supporters is assembled. The participants speak to Murray about a problem in their lives. Murray explains how she’s sponsoring legislation to solve it. The Fourth Estate is given a couple of questions and off she goes.
The problem with keeping this senator in a cocoon is that the butterfly can’t get out.
Sure, right wing media is on the prowl: FNC once depicted Murray as praising Taliban social programs in Afghanistan. On the whole, however, Murray has proven able to handle herself. She has won Senate races over three incumbent Republican members of Congress, and a former Democratic House member.
She has debated effectively, with inadvertent help from Republicans not familiar with Washingtonians’ aspirations and problems.
We still have the sense of community where we want to see those who represent us and come away with the sense they are helping us.
First-term Representative Suzan DelBene, D‑WA-01, won respect of conservative rural Snohomish County as a go-to person after the Oso landslide.
In the marshaling yard behind the Darrington Ranger Station, rescue workers spoke of telling DelBene’s office what they needed and getting it. A “Reelect DelBene” sign, attached to a big log, sat beside S.R. 530 that fall.
Murray used to display that knack. As a freshman senator, albeit one with a seat on the Appropriations Committee, she was able to direct attention and resources to the then-neglected U.S.-Canada border. The result? She swamped Republican challenger Representative Linda Smith in Whatcom County.
An old friend, and hardbitten Washington, D.C., scribe, was blown away by Murray’s initial Senate floor speech, which talked about ovarian cancer, acquaintances who had died from it, and the urgent need to put more federal dollars into research and cures for diseases that afflict women.
Murray needs to get back out on the hustings, hear out the folks, and court “red” counties that used to be blue. Sure, the Democrats’ geographic base is in central Puget Sound, but Southwest Washington has left the fold. Northeast Washington may vote Republican, but needs the social spending championed by Murray. They sure ain’t going to get it from Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put everything in flux.
But until 2020, the Pacific County Democrats’ annual crab feed was the oldest continuous political event in the state of Washington. It was also lots of fun.
Representative Derek Kilmer (D‑WA-06) and Attorney General Bob Ferguson served up the crab. Senator Maria Cantwell passed up the Gridiron Dinner in the District of Columbia one year to spoon out potato salad in South Bend.
I’ve never seen Senator Murray at the crab feed. She ought to be there if the event is on this year, or otherwise join the Democrats for their summer picnic.
Or find other similar events.
Or – at last – start holding town halls.
Murray is being semi-targeted. Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley did raise $925,000 in the last quarter of 2021.
This cycle would appear one of those times where the Republican Party is waiting for a signal of the incumbent’s weakness or overconfidence. They came in full bore for Dino Rossi in 2010, but Murray outfought them.
The cocoon does not become our senior senator. We need to see the butterfly, albeit someone who’s proven to be an iron butterfly under pressure.