Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Washington U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Washington U.S. Senate

October 13, 2010
20 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

In 1992, Patty Murray capitalized on the strong year for female Democrat candidates and her campaign theme of being a "mom in tennis shoes" to defeat formidable opponents in the primary and general election in winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. Murray left her tennis shoes behind on the floor of the Senate, and was targeted by the GOP in both of her successful reelection campaigns, but she managed to win, thanks in part to the statewide advantage that Democrats have established in the state. Her 2004 reelection came nearly two years after she made what was in my opinion, one of the most asinine statements a politician has ever made. She claimed that part of the reason why Osama bin Laden had support in the Middle East was that he had "made lives better", by doing such things as "building daycare facilities."

This year finds Republicans charging hard at Democrat Senators from coast to coast and at this late date, Murray appears to be in her toughest race to date. This Pacific race could be the one that people are staying up the latest for on Election Night and it could stretch for days and even weeks longer. It is quite conceivable that the result of Washington's Senate contest will determine which party controls the upper chamber of Congress next year.

Opposing Murray is GOP nominee Dino Rossi, who is hoping his third stint as a competitive statewide Republican nominee is the charm. A businessman, Rossi was also a State Senator who made a surprisingly strong bid as his party's nominee for Governor in 2004. After the initial counting of the vote, Rossi held a very small lead, and it looked as though he had pulled off a major upset, as the final polls showed that he was likely to fall short. He continued to lead after a recount, but after a second recount, done by hand, he fell behind his Democrat opponent by just over 100 votes. Republicans cried foul and felt that something sinister might have happened regarding suddenly found votes in the heavily Democrat King County. Public opinion surveys indicated that the public believed Rossi was the rightful winner, but the courts upheld that he had lost, and Rossi chose to concede and fight another day. Four years later, the political winds in Washington were more strongly in favor of Democrats, and Rossi's opponent was reelected by about six points.

It did not seem as if Rossi would make another political race, so soon after his last defeat, but with Murray seeming potentially vulnerable to a GOP wave, party leaders encouraged him to enter the field. Several Republicans were already in the race, and the most politically organized of them was Clint Didier, a businessman and former NFL player. Rossi did not enter the race until May of 2010, but once he did, he was considered the strong frontrunner for the nomination, despite an endorsement that Didier had picked up from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

The primary system in Washington is a bit different from other states, in that all candidates appear on the same ballot in a blanket primary, with the top finishers advancing to the general election. In mid August, showing further evidence of her vulnerability, Murray topped the field with just 46 percent of the vote. Rossi finished easily ahead of Didier for the top Republican slot, but their combined vote, along with that of another Republican were together more than Murray received. Republicans were pumped up about the race, but Didier, citing Rossi's lack of a personal pledge to him to always vote a certain way on specific issues, has only given a conditional endorsement of the Republican nominee who defeated him.

In spite of the total lack of Republican post-primary unity, Rossi looked in great shape in the first couple of polls after the first round of voting. SurveyUSA even had him at 52 percent, leading the incumbent by seven. As September rolled around though, polls showed movement back to Murray, with some now putting her up by a similar margin to the lead that Rossi might have once had. More recently though, some polls indicate that the race might once again be a tossup. Presently, distinct polls by Rasmussen Reports and Fox News give Rossi a slight lead. However, an Elway Poll and a CNN poll out this week, show that Murray is still in the driver's seat. The Elway pollster has even conceded that his poll might be an "outlier", with a larger lead than many are willing to believe at this point.

With such conflicting data, it is somewhat difficult to judge the real situation on the ground in the Evergreen State. As a Republican, I very much Rossi finds a way to win. With a strong Republican turnout, that is a very realistic possibility. As it is, he will likely carry most of the state's territory by a significant margin, but will need to stay close enough in King County to win statewide.

On the heel of two recent losses, Rossi's personal political future is invested in winning this Senate race, and the entire balance of power may hinge on his doing so. As of today though, my hunch, based on Washington's electoral history in recent years, and Rossi's unfortunate luck in the last two races, is that Murray has a slight edge. Hopefully, I can be in a position to change my mind in the next 20 days, or better yet, discover after Election Day, that I was wrong.

Rossi campaign link:

2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 10 D, 25 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 50 D, 48 R