Elections

Will Senator Patty Murray break out of the protective cocoon that often surrounds veteran lawmakers for the 2022 midterms?

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.

Joel Connelly

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