Big bucks may decide the close Senate race in Washington
Sen. Patty Murray faces GOP challenger, Rep. Linda Smith
By Brooks Jackson/CNN
SEATTLE (October 20) -- In the shadow of Mt. Ranier, in the state of Washington, it's the year of the women. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is fighting for re-election against Republican Rep. Linda Smith. The only certainty in this race -- a woman will win.
Six years ago Murray was the "mom in tennis shoes," the everywoman who got it in a way no male senator could.
Now -- despite better shoes -- she's struggling, garnering barely more than 50 percent in the polls.
"I am the only senator in the history of this country to be a pre-school teacher before I became a United States senator," Murray tells an amused audience.
Even supporters admit her Senate record is mediocre. A newspaper endorsing her said her grasp of issues is "much improved" despite a "slow learning curve."
And Murray's support is soft compared to Smith's devoted followers who once gathered 40,000 write-in votes in 10 days, allowing her to win a House primary.
Murray's big advantage is money and lots of negative TV ads. Nearly $1 million in "issue ads" attacking Smith, financed by the Democratic party
"Smith voted against Head Start. Smith voted against school lunches," touts an ad sponsored by the Washington State Democrats.
Smith demanded more than a dozen debates but Murray agreed to only one, that was broadcast during a World Series game.
While Murray's campaign ran this ad: "Linda Smith has voted to cut Medicare to give tax breaks to millionaires," that attack angered at least one Smith supporter.
"Negative ads. They love negative ads," former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole said at a Smith campaign event. "They've got a lot of money and run a lot of them. Tear people down."
"This will be interesting to see if she can run a total, media-only campaign, with just negative ads. And hide. Or whether that's going to be her last race," Smith said
These two women disagree on nearly everything: Smith is anti-abortion, against state hiring preferences for minorities and women, opposed to hate-crime legislation, against most-favored-nation trade status for China. The opposite of Murray.
Smith does agree with Murray on campaign finance legislation. And that may be why Republican Campaign Chairman Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is withholding party money from Smith.
"They tell us they do not have enough money at this point to fully fund this race," said Dale Foreman, Washington state's Republican party chairman.
But when asked if he believes that lack of funds is the real reason the GOP pocketbook has been closed to Smith, Foreman admits, "I'm skeptical. I think that they have made a decision that Linda is (an) outspoken opponent of campaign finance reform."
McConnell did send $100,000 after that, but is still withholding the full $440,000 the party could legally give.
Smith's ads are seen far less frequently than Murray's, partly because she refuses to take political action committee money while Murray took in more than $500,000 from PACs -- with no apologies.
"I am working very hard to win this election," Murray says. "I want to be back in the U.S. Senate. I want to be there when we talk about health care next year. I want to be there when we decide the future of social security."
Murray's PAC money and party support add up to nearly a $2-million advantage over Smith. Murray's election six years ago heralded the year of the woman. If she's re-elected it may remembered here as the year of the big bucks.
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