Murray, Rossi advance to November race for U.S. Senate

Senator Patty Murray, left, and Dino Rossi, right, defeated 13 other challengers to advance to the Nov. 2 ballot in Tuesday's "top-two" primary election.
Senator Patty Murray, left, and Dino Rossi, right, defeated 13 other challengers to advance to the Nov. 2 ballot in Tuesday's "top-two" primary election.

Tuesday's primary-election results didn't exactly set off a sonic boom in Washington's race for the U.S. Senate.

Dino Rossi fended off less well-known Republicans to become the sole challenger to Sen. Patty Murray.

Democrat Murray and Republican Rossi defeated 13 other challengers to advance to the Nov. 2 ballot in Tuesday’s “top-two” primary election. The pair will continue the fight they’ve been waging since Rossi entered the race in May.

Rossi laid out the line of attack in an evening speech to supporters, saying on Murray’s watch government spending and debt have reached “shocking levels” and promised to reverse the “fundamental redefinition of our country.”

“That all starts with putting Washington, D.C., on a pork-free diet,” he said.

National Republicans had hoped for a Rossi victory to give them a shot at capturing the seat Murray has held for 18 years. A number of pundits have called the contest between the two a toss-up, as Republicans hope to capitalize on the floundering economy and Democrats’ hold on the levers of power in Washington, D.C.

In early results, Murray had more votes than her three chief Republican challengers combined, and far more than Rossi. Democrats called it a “strong show of support.”

But she was falling short of the primary-election performance she turned in during her 2004 re-election campaign, and hadn’t captured a majority of all votes.

“I’m not worried about it,” Murray said in a phone interview. “I do know what my challenge is, and that is a lot of people are hurting today.

“I know what I’m doing to help get this economy back on track.”

Eastern Washington farmer and former NFL tight end Clint Didier couldn’t turn his tea party support and endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin into widespread, statewide backing from voters. Nor did Bellingham businessman Paul Akers gain traction.

Even without a firebrand like Didier in the race, voters will be presented with a real choice. They would be hard-pressed to come up with many major national issues in which Rossi does not toe the line of national Republicans or where Murray departs from the Democratic Party.

Murray was among the champions for the overhaul of health-care laws that will expand insurance coverage while requiring everyone to be insured; Rossi wants to repeal it.

Murray voted for changes in rules for banks and other financial firms; Rossi opposed them. Murray voted for the 2008 bank bailout, she says reluctantly; Rossi rarely wastes an opportunity to criticize bailouts.

Rossi opposed Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court; Murray helped confirm her.

Rossi relentlessly points out what he sees as waste in Obama’s stimulus bill; Murray voted for it and says it has created thousands of jobs, including many at Hanford nuclear reservation.

One way Rossi has separated himself from Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress is by saying he wouldn’t seek spending in the form of Congressional earmarks – though, according to a recent report by McClatchy Newspapers, he wrote budgets as a state senator in Olympia that included similar requests for projects in legislators’ districts.

Murray, by contrast, has built a reputation on bringing home money to Washington, whether it’s for roads, veterans’ facilities, the Hanford funds or a Pentagon contract she wants to see awarded to Boeing. Rossi says Congress shouldn’t add to the growing deficit with pork projects.

The race is expected to be hard-fought. Murray accused Rossi in a television advertisement of being in Wall Street’s pocket, while a GOP-led independent group aired an ad – likely the first in a barrage of independent advertising – charging Murray with abandoning small businesses.

Both parties are gearing up for more. State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said as results rolled in that Rossi “has gone to bat for his corporate lobbyist friends who have bankrolled his campaign and want to rerun the same failed policies that destroyed our economy.”

Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser said Murray should be worried about not winning over a majority of voters.

“If she hasn’t done it in 18 years, I don’t think she’s going to do it in another two and a half months,” he said.

The campaign drew President Barack Obama to Seattle on Tuesday, where he raised an expected $1.3 million for Murray and praised her work on behalf of state residents.