Still from a Tiffany Smiley ad
Still from a Tiffany Smiley ad

With an increas­ing cho­rus of pun­dits and jour­nal­ists assess­ing that the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s hopes of recap­tur­ing the Unit­ed States Sen­ate this year are dim­ming, nation­al and state Repub­li­cans are engag­ing in a big coor­di­nat­ed push to try to con­struct and sell the nar­ra­tive that Wash­ing­ton State is in play for the Repub­li­can Par­ty this year, despite a lack of evi­dence sup­port­ing that contention.

Repub­li­cans, as read­ers may know, have been defeat­ed in every statewide con­test for gov­er­nor and U.S. Sen­ate in Wash­ing­ton going back to the Clin­ton presidency.

The par­ty’s last Sen­ate vic­to­ry came in 1994, when the late Slade Gor­ton defeat­ed Ron Sims, who lat­er was repeat­ed­ly elect­ed to be King Coun­ty Executive.

That was the cycle that has since been dubbed “the Repub­li­can Rev­o­lu­tion,” and it saw huge Repub­li­can gains across Washington.

In Unit­ed States House races, George Nether­cutt defeat­ed Speak­er Tom Foley, Doc Hast­ings unseat­ed Jay Inslee, Rick White edged Maria Cantwell, Randy Tate pre­vailed over Mike Krei­dler, and Lin­da Smith replaced Jolene Unsoeld. Repub­li­can Jack Met­calf also picked up the seat held by Al Swift.

It has been almost thir­ty years since Repub­li­cans had that kind of suc­cess in the Ever­green State, today the nation’s thir­teenth most pop­u­lous state.

The par­ty, now chaired by Caleb Heim­lich, is des­per­ate­ly crav­ing a big, state­ment-mak­ing win, espe­cial­ly in the wake of a dis­as­trous Top Two elec­tion in which the par­ty’s can­di­dates for Sec­re­tary of State and State House, Posi­tion 1 in the 47th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict can­celed each oth­er out, and in which long­time incum­bent Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler was defeat­ed by ultra MAGA chal­lenger Joe Kent.

While Heim­lich and his crew can cred­i­bly claim that they have a chance of recap­tur­ing the 8th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict this year (it’s the only dis­trict in the state that either par­ty can arguably win in any cycle), they have set their sights high­er… much high­er. Aid­ed by nation­al Repub­li­can operaives and Rick Scot­t’s NRSC, they are going all out in the wake of the Top Two to claim that Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray is vul­ner­a­ble this year, hop­ing to reset, ele­vate, and pol­ish chal­lenger Tiffany Smi­ley’s pub­lic image as the midterms approach.

Smi­ley — who is far more extreme than Chris Vance, the pre­vi­ous chal­lenger the par­ty put up against Mur­ray, wants to pull off a polit­i­cal­ly dizzy­ing feat this autumn: win a six year Sen­ate term in a Demo­c­ra­t­ic state that vot­ed for Hillary Clin­ton and Joe Biden, and as an ultra MAGA can­di­date to boot.

There are many in the Repub­li­can Par­ty eager to help her with that project.

Smi­ley is seen by many with­in Repub­li­can cir­cles as a dark horse who needs a boost. She’s already proven that she can raise mon­ey — lots of mon­ey — and quite a few Repub­li­cans think she match­es up well against Pat­ty Mur­ray as a charis­mat­ic younger alter­na­tive who has­n’t had a long career in politics.

To date, how­ev­er, Repub­li­cans have had lit­tle suc­cess con­vinc­ing peo­ple who don’t belong to the Par­ty of Trump that Mur­ray is vulnerable.

But with “can­di­date qual­i­ty” (to bor­row Mitch McConnel­l’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion) drag­ging them down and imper­il­ing their prospects in key swing states like Penn­syl­va­nia, Geor­gia, and Ari­zona, plus Wis­con­sin, they’re mak­ing one last big push for Smi­ley, try­ing to bol­ster her stature and pitch her as a top-tier challenger.

Rolling out a couple rosy polls

Smi­ley fin­ished around eigh­teen points behind Mur­ray in the first round of Wash­ing­ton’s two-part gen­er­al elec­tion sys­tem — not a great look for a top tier can­di­date. To address that, Repub­li­cans have pro­duced a pair of polls, one right after the oth­er, that pur­port to show Smi­ley with­in a few points of Mur­ray (though of course not ahead, because such fig­ures would real­ly be laughed at).

The first one was done by the McLaugh­lin Group for John Jor­dan, a Repub­li­can financier, and depicts Smi­ley about six points behind Murray.

The sec­ond was done by the Trafal­gar Group, a pro­lif­ic Repub­li­can poll­ster, and depicts Smi­ley only three points behind — a mas­sive­ly dif­fer­ent result from what poll­sters not aligned with either par­ty found back in July.

Nei­ther poll is cor­rob­o­rat­ed by any cred­i­ble pub­lic opin­ion research, but since there are two of them, Repub­li­cans are claim­ing that they cor­rob­o­rate each other.

NPI/PPP, Crosscut/Elway, and SurveyUSA/KING 5/UW/WSU/Seattle Times all polled the race in the weeks before the Top Two elec­tion and found a dou­ble dig­it lead for Mur­ray, which was borne out in the Top Two results. To hear Repub­li­cans tell it, that might as well be ancient his­to­ry and what mat­ters now is these new polls, which are con­ve­nient­ly not yet con­tra­dict­ed by any fresh polling from a spon­sor not a cog in the polit­i­cal machine sup­port­ing Don­ald Trump.

Our assess­ment is that both Repub­li­can polls have sam­pling prob­lems and lack cred­i­bil­i­ty. But that’s obvi­ous­ly not going to stop Repub­li­cans from cit­ing them.

Scrubbing the campaign website

Wash­ing­ton State vot­ed over­whelm­ing­ly for Biden-Har­ris in 2020, a fact not lost on Repub­li­can oper­a­tives and strate­gists. With the Top Two now over and all oth­er can­di­dates elim­i­nat­ed, Smi­ley’s team has been mak­ing changes to the cam­paign web­site in an effort to make the can­di­date more pre­sentable to an elec­torate that is expect­ed to be larg­er, more diverse, and more Demo­c­ra­t­ic. Via Huff­Post:

With the pri­maries over and a new focus on the gen­er­al elec­tion, the Repub­li­can Sen­ate can­di­date in Wash­ing­ton State has removed ref­er­ences to “seri­ous ques­tions about the integri­ty of our elec­tions” from her cam­paign website.

The episode is the lat­est in a string of inci­dents where some Repub­li­can can­di­dates in recent weeks appeared to be scrub­bing their online pres­ences of posi­tions that could allow them to be paint­ed as extreme, often relat­ed to the issue of abor­tion or for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Smi­ley’s cam­paign told Huff­Post that she has­n’t changed her posi­tion on elec­tion secu­ri­ty. Regard­less, the removal of the lan­guage from the web­site sug­gests that Smi­ley’s team con­clud­ed that that lan­guage could be a turnoff for inde­pen­dent and Demo­c­ra­t­ic-lean­ing vot­ers that Smi­ley needs to forge a bond with to even have a prayer of win­ning this race. So away it went.

But not before it had been archived.

Engaging on the airwaves

Pat­ty Mur­ray’s cam­paign decid­ed back in the spring to define Smi­ley before she could define her­self, and rolled out ads crit­i­ciz­ing Smi­ley (espe­cial­ly with regards to her posi­tion on repro­duc­tive rights) that have been air­ing for weeks.

With the gen­er­al elec­tion approach­ing and time run­ning out to con­nect with vot­ers, Smi­ley’s cam­paign has now respond­ed with its own ads. Two are defen­sive­ly themed. One is offen­sive­ly themed and attempts to change the subject.

In the defen­sive­ly themed ads, Smi­ley (who called her­self “100% pro-life” on a pod­cast) acknowl­edges she isn’t a sup­port­er of repro­duc­tive rights, but would­n’t sup­port a nation­wide ban on abor­tion, which Mike Pence and oth­ers have called for. That sounds about as believ­able to me as Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Bar­rett claim­ing that Roe was set­tled law dur­ing their con­fir­ma­tion hearings.

Here’s “She Said”:

Here’s “Dis­ease”:

The oth­er ad is infla­tion-themed, and cites how the cost of food for a game day par­ty has gone up, specif­i­cal­ly men­tion­ing the prices of hot dogs and eggs:

Smi­ley asserts that Mur­ray is to blame for high­er food prices. That is false. Mur­ray has both cham­pi­oned and vot­ed for poli­cies to low­er Amer­i­cans’ cost of liv­ing. But Smi­ley has to have some­thing to cam­paign on, and as a prized recruit, she’s basi­cal­ly oblig­ed to fol­low the play­book that D.C. Repub­li­cans wrote.

Making national media appearances

As part of the effort to raise her pro­file, Smi­ley said yes to an inter­view with Dana Bash on CNN’s State of the Union, which, unlike an FNC show, is an envi­ron­ment where a Repub­li­can can­di­date can expect to be asked some tough ques­tions as opposed to only get­ting soft­balls. Bash grilled Smi­ley on a num­ber of fronts, includ­ing repro­duc­tive rights and the state of Amer­i­can democracy.

Like back in July when she talked to Matt Markovich, Smi­ley acknowl­edged when asked that Joe Biden is the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, but when asked repeat­ed­ly whether he was legit­i­mate­ly elect­ed, she demurred, repeat­ed­ly, refus­ing to sim­ply say, Yes. He was legit­i­mate­ly elect­ed.

A rea­son­able Repub­li­can, as opposed to an ultra MAGA can­di­date with an alle­giance to Trump, should not have a prob­lem mak­ing that kind of statement.

Smi­ley and her pro­mot­ers have been try­ing to pass her off as a rea­son­able Repub­li­can despite her extreme views. This exchange with Bash showed pret­ty clear­ly that Smi­ley is a Trump Repub­li­can — not, say, a Slade Gor­ton Repub­li­can, under­cut­ting the work Repub­li­cans have under­tak­en to devel­op Smi­ley’s image.

(The esteemed Gor­ton, in the final months of his life, sup­port­ed Trump’s impeach­ment and called for Repub­li­cans to fol­low the facts.)

Pleading for money (and lots of it)

Inspired per­haps by the fundrais­ing appeals that Don­ald Trump and Tim Eyman so often send, Tiffany Smi­ley’s cam­paign team has gone all-in on doom will be our fate unless you open your wal­let and give right now as the theme of their pitch­es for mon­ey. Lest you think I am exag­ger­at­ing, here is an end of the month email — in its entire­ty — that Smi­ley’s cam­paign sent out a week ago:

Friend, you know I hate to be negative.

There’s tru­ly no one who believes in this cam­paign more than me, which is why it kills me to say I may have to call it quits.

My finance team just sat me down and deliv­ered some dev­as­tat­ing news… we’re about to come up $4,750 short of our August goal.

[Help meet Tiffany’s goal button]

Why is this such dev­as­tat­ing news, you ask? Well, my oppo­nent, Pat­ty Mur­ray, hit her goal days ago and is already launch­ing huge ad campaigns.

I’m gen­uine­ly over­whelmed by all of this. I don’t see how we can catch up to an ever-grow­ing and seem­ing­ly unbeat­able war chest.

And to make mat­ters worse, oth­er Repub­li­can can­di­dates are suf­fer­ing the same fate and are clos­ing up shop.

This couldn’t be more severe and is why I’m ask­ing – no beg­ging – you to read every word of this email.

I’m a first-time can­di­date, vet­er­an advo­cate, and polit­i­cal out­sider. I’ve spent so much of my life rais­ing my 3 incred­i­ble boys and car­ing for my hus­band when he was per­ma­nent­ly blind­ed while serv­ing in Iraq.

Unlike my oppo­nent, I haven’t spent the last 30 years build­ing con­nec­tions and rais­ing mon­ey from polit­i­cal elites.

But that’s pre­cise­ly why I have a real chance of defeat­ing her this Novem­ber. I’m bring­ing the fresh ideas and lead­er­ship Amer­i­ca needs, and the Democ­rats know it.

So I’ll get right to it.

I need you on my team. I won’t put a num­ber on it because I mean it when I say any­thing you give can and will be a game-chang­er in this election.

We’re creep­ing into the final hours of this month’s dead­line, but I know that we’ll keep this cam­paign going with your support.

So what do you think? Will you be a part of my his­to­ry-mak­ing cam­paign by chip­ping in what you can before tonight’s deadline?

I real­ly hope you under­stand where I’m com­ing from.

I promise I wouldn’t reach out like this if it weren’t the end of the road.


Tiffany Smi­ley

Empha­sis is theirs.

The email’s atten­tion-grab­bing sub­ject line was Call­ing it quits.

The part that I enjoyed most of all was the line we’re about to come up $4,750 short of our August goal, which is described as “dev­as­tat­ing news.”

Dev­as­tat­ing? A statewide cam­paign that has already raised mil­lions of dol­lars is less than five grand short of a month­ly goal? How is that dev­as­tat­ing?

Ought a ship­shape, fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble cam­paign that has raised mil­lions be able to adjust to being a few thou­sand short of a month­ly goal?

I’m being face­tious, of course. There’s no log­ic to this email: it’s writ­ten delib­er­ate­ly to pro­voke an emo­tion­al reac­tion — espe­cial­ly from peo­ple who have already giv­en mon­ey to the cam­paign — with alarm­ing phras­ing such as: I may have to call it quits… I’m beg­ging you to read every word of this email… I promise I wouldn’t reach out like this if it weren’t the end of the road.

Sep­tem­ber 1st end­ed up not being the end of the road for the Smi­ley cam­paign; Repub­li­cans entered Sep­tem­ber still fren­zied­ly try­ing to pitch her candidacy.

Concern trolls, now is the time!

Even if Repub­li­cans are not them­selves con­vinced that Tiffany Smi­ley is an oppo­nent Pat­ty Mur­ray should fear, they are nev­er­the­less hop­ing to alarm Democ­rats into think­ing that this is the case. They would love to get into their oppo­nents’ heads and get them to believe that Wash­ing­ton is in play… or, fail­ing that, at least prod them into doubt­ing that Wash­ing­ton is Safe Demo­c­ra­t­ic turf this year.

Per­haps the best case sce­nario for Repub­li­cans is that Democ­rats get spooked and spend a lot of mon­ey here rather than in those swing states I just mentioned.

Accord­ing­ly, the con­cern trolls are out.

One stopped by the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate last week, and said, in part:

Be care­ful, Democ­rats, or you’re going to have anoth­er old, worn out ver­sus young charis­mat­ic John James type sit­u­a­tion on your hands.

I not­ed, in reply:

Has it occurred to you that Repub­li­cans are just bad at going up against Pat­ty Mur­ray? Every cycle, it seems, they under­es­ti­mate her, and that works to her advantage.

Lin­da Smith was sup­posed to beat her in 1998. Didn’t hap­pen. Then in 2004, it was gonna be George Nether­cutt, who had knocked out Speak­er Foley in 1994. But nope. Then in 2010, Repub­li­cans recruit­ed Dino Rossi to chal­lenge Mur­ray. Again, she pre­vailed, and in a dif­fi­cult envi­ron­ment for Democ­rats. In 2016, Chris Vance (now an inde­pen­dent) tried to defeat Mur­ray, and got walloped.

Here we are in 2022 and Tiffany Smi­ley is run­ning. You imply she’s charis­mat­ic. But she is run­ning a ter­ri­ble cam­paign. She couldn’t even tell The Seat­tle Times’ David Gut­man what she would cut out of the fed­er­al bud­get despite claim­ing to be for rein­ing in spend­ing. The Smi­ley cam­paign con­sists main­ly of boil­er­plate and Biden/Murray bash­ing. We shall see how far that gets Smiley.

Our assess­ment, based on the evi­dence: Not far. But any­thing can hap­pen in pol­i­tics. Unlike some, we don’t lack for imagination.

Labor Day has come and gone and we’re now in the home­stretch of the cycle. Espe­cial­ly giv­en the Dobbs deci­sion and the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s con­tin­ued march towards becom­ing an enti­ty that is total­ly incom­pat­i­ble with democ­ra­cy, the NPI team does not see an open­ing for Tiffany Smi­ley to win Wash­ing­ton State in 2022.

Pat­ty Mur­ray was already a favorite even before the events of 2022. Impor­tant­ly, though, any­one who knows her knows she does­n’t take an elec­tion for granted.

If Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­cans were hop­ing to ben­e­fit from Demo­c­ra­t­ic com­pla­cen­cy this year, they’re going to be disappointed.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts