Wash. state independents, ‘tea party’ wooed

Senate incumbent Murray seen lackluster in primary

With the U.S. Senate race in Washington state officially a two-person contest, Republican Dino Rossi and incumbent Democrat Patty Murray are looking to woo supporters of the losing candidates from Tuesday’s primary who appear key to winning the general election in November.

The biggest voting bloc available is the roughly 15 percent of largely independents and “tea party” supporters who either voted for businessman Paul Akers or Sarah Palin-endorsed Clint Didier.

Mrs. Murray, a three-term incumbent, received 46 percent of the vote Tuesday with Mr. Rossi garnering 34 percent - numbers that matched most predictions in a primary that advances the top two vote-getters regardless of political party.

Mrs. Murray, 59, faces the obstacle of a Democratic incumbent trying to win the independent vote, which this election cycle appears to be with the GOP. Meanwhile Mr. Rossi, 50, faces his own challenge in being a candidate hand-picked by Washington Republicans.

Mr. Didier said after the primary that he wanted to talk face-to-face with Mr. Rossi before endorsing him.

On Wednesday he told supporters: “Votes aren’t just an automatic ‘gimme’ because of the letter next to a candidate’s name. … You need to see some fire in the belly and some real conviction to get your votes.”

A Rossi campaign staffer said Mr. Akers already has spoken to Mr. Rossi, who twice lost in a Washington gubernatorial race, and has given his full support.

She did not give specifics about winning over grass-roots voters, but said Tuesday’s results show 54 percent of voters “don’t want Ms. Murray in Congress any longer.”

Kitsap Patriots Tea Party member Joan Benze said her group will support Mr. Rossi and that the general thought among other groups is: “Anybody but Patty Murray.”

Said Ms. Benze: “We like Dino Rossi and we’ll do everything we can to get rid of Ms. Murray.”

In addition, Keli Carender, a Washington state resident credited with helping start the tea party movement said she will endorse Mr. Rossi.

National Republicans have long targeted Mrs. Murray and her voting record and see a November victory as crucial in the GOP effort to regaining the Senate majority.

Within hours of the unofficial primary results, Republicans already were saying that Mrs. Murray receiving less than 50 percent of the vote was a sure sign her years in Congress were coming to a close.

“That an 18-year incumbent from a blue state who serves as a member of Senate leadership is struggling to get above 50 percent in an open primary speaks volumes,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “After nearly two decades in D.C., the former ‘mom in tennis shoes’ has completely lost touch with her state’s families, seniors, and small business owners who are struggling to make ends meet.”

The GOP has targeted Mrs. Murray’s support for the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, multibillion-dollar stimulus and bailout plans and what they say is her failure to initiate and pass significant legislation.

Democrats also wasted no time in attacking their opponent.

“Republicans in Washington today nominated a candidate who is committed to returning to the failed economic policies of the past and wants to do more to help the big corporate interests that fared so well under George Bush,” said Sen. New Jersey Robert Menendez, chairman of the National Democratic Congressional Committee.

Mrs. Murray again criticized Mr. Rossi for his interest in repealing the administration’s Wall Street and health care reform.

Mrs. Murray leads by roughly 4 percentage points, according to most polls.

However, she has a considerable fundraising advantage.

Mrs. Murray has raised $7.4 million with $3.2 million on hand, according to the most recent federal filings. That does not include the reported $1.3 million President Obama helped bring in during fundraisers Tuesday.

Mr. Rossi raised $1.4 million over roughly his first five weeks in the race and has $1.3 million cash on hand.

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