Politics & Government

Obama stumps for Senate race

For much of this hard-fought U.S. Senate campaign, Dino Rossi has tried to nationalize the race and Patty Murray has tried to localize it.

That hasn’t stopped. Rossi still says the nation is in peril from Democrats’ spending and taxes; Murray still points out the specific projects she has supported for Washington state, while her ads still hint that Rossi’s business dealings are unsavory.

But lately, it has been Murray’s campaign events where the race seems like a national one, even as Rossi takes sharper aim at the specifics of the local projects Murray has promoted.

The shift toward a national mood is natural, with politicians and pundits calling Murray’s seat a must-win for Democrats to keep the Senate and Democratic heavyweights in town seemingly every day: Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, soon first lady Michelle Obama, and Thursday the heaviest of all: President Barack Obama.

The president touched on Murray’s record and briefly disparaged Rossi, but mostly, he gave a buck-up speech to an overflow crowd of college students and other supporters at 10,000-seat Hec Edmundson Pavilion at the University of Washington. He reminded them why they voted for him – and against Republicans – and urged them not to abandon his cause now.

Sure, he said, there might be some people thinking, “this isn’t happening as fast as I would like.” It has been hard work since the “big party” on Election Night 2008, and there are still workers unemployed and homes facing foreclosure, Obama said.

“You can’t let it get to you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that this fight is not worth it,” he said.

He told voters there are patients who can afford health care; students who can afford college; and teachers, small-business owners and firefighters who are still working because of their help for his agenda.

“There are 100,000 brave men and women who are back from a war in Iraq,” he added, drawing loud applause. “So don’t let anybody tell you change isn’t possible.”

Deploying his frequently used metaphor of Republicans driving a car into a ditch and then asking for the keys back, Obama said the GOP would take the United States back to “the same agenda that nearly destroyed our economy.”

Rossi has had a few national Republican visitors of his own to the state, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and, less of a household name, Bush-era Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who stumps for him today in Bellevue.

Lately, Rossi’s message focuses on individual earmarks secured by Murray. Thursday, he held a news conference to talk about a maritime museum that closed despite receiving some of the federal money, and criticizing her at a campaign stop Wednesday in Olympia for securing earmarks on behalf of former aides who are now lobbyists.

The Seattle Times reported Murray recently inserted spending items in a defense bill that will benefit the clients of at least nine of her former staff members. The lobbyists and their clients also have contributed to Murray’s campaign, according to the report.

None of those things is illegal. Murray says earmarks like those would create jobs in the state.

Rossi says he wouldn’t secure earmarks. He told supporters Wednesday that Murray went to Washington, D.C., in 1992 with good intentions to be fiscally responsible.

“She has truly lost her way,” he said.

Obama and Murray’s argument Thursday against electing Rossi: He’s in lockstep with national Republicans in opposing the progress Democrats have made.

Murray referred to a host of Democrats’ priorities – increasing access to medical care, cracking down on Wall Street banks, and, in a shout-out to the UW crowd, ending private lenders’ role in federal student loans – and noted Rossi’s opposition to the measures.

“My opponent has staked his entire campaign on one word: ‘No,’” Murray said.

Rossi says Democrats have said “yes” too many times to spending that increases the nation’s debt, burdening future generations with the bill.

“It’s morally reprehensible,” Rossi said in Olympia. “That is the moral issue of this campaign.”

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@thenewstribune.com, blog.thenewstribune.com/politics