Incumbent Murray makes bashing banking her issue

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OLYMPIA, Wash. | Patty Murray was stuck. Down in the polls for months and facing a well-known Republican challenger, the three-term Democrat was finding a difficult market for her hard-working-senator sales pitch.

Then she started bashing Wall Street and saying her opponent is in the pockets of bankers who want to repeal financial regulations.

Now, less than a month before ballots are distributed in Washington’s vote-by-mail election, Mrs. Murray is apparently benefiting from some old-fashioned class warfare. She has gone from essentially being tied with challenger Dino Rossi to leading in the latest round of polls, proving that the 2010 Democratic campaign theme of linking the GOP to Wall Street greed can resonate with voters.

Mrs. Murray started running anti-Wall Street TV ads shortly before the August primary, criticizing Mr. Rossi’s advocacy of repealing new Wall Street regulations. She began airing another anti-Wall Street commercial this month, followed 10 days later by an ad that pledged support for middle-class tax breaks over favors for big business.

One of the ads declares that Mr. Rossi is “not on our side” for his stance on Wall Street regulations.

Voters in several competitive Senate races are hearing similar arguments.

Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak and Republican candidate Pat Toomey have sparred over allegiance to the financial sector - Mr. Sestak supported the federal bank bailouts, while Mr. Toomey once worked in investment banking.

In Missouri, Democrat Robin Carnahan has criticized Republican Rep. Roy Blunt for helping to negotiate bank bailouts and then opposing Democrats’ new Wall Street regulations.

And in a debate earlier this month, California Sen. Barbara Boxer tore into the $21 million severance package that Republican challenger Carly Fiorina received after she was let go as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co.

“I don’t think we need those Wall Street values right now,” Mrs. Boxer said.

There’s good reason for Democrats to try a blame-Wall-Street message as they scramble to avoid thumping losses on the campaign trail - the financial sector might be more unpopular than they are.

The latest AP-GfK poll, conducted in mid-September, showed that Americans lay heavy blame for the “Great Recession” on the financial industry and lax regulation of banks. Bankers and financiers also ranked last in August’s AP-National Constitution Center poll that tested public confidence in national institutions.

Tapping into the anger, Democrats from President Obama on down have been trotting out the blame-the-banks mantra as they fight to maintain control of Congress and deflect voter irritation with the party. Democrats need Mrs. Murray to win to keep the Senate, especially if they surrender seats elsewhere as expected.

With several weeks left in an already bruising campaign, it’s unclear whether Mrs. Murray’s blame-Wall-Street strategy will provide lasting help.

But Mrs. Murray’s campaign appears to have rebounded at least temporarily from a difficult summer of ratings below 50 percent - very dangerous territory for any incumbent, especially when insider credentials and Washington clout are no longer strong selling points. A series of polls in recent weeks has put her above 50 percent.

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