YAKIMA, Wash. ‘ The debates are done, the funds raised, the TV airwaves blanketed and the ballots mailed. Now, for Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Dino Rossi, the focus is on getting people to send in their votes.
‘We don’t have Election Day in Washington. We have election two and a half weeks,’ Rossi said in an interview last week, referring to the state’s vote-by-mail system.
Patrick McDonald, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said Monday that 50 percent of voters have already submitted their ballots and that they expect a turnout of around 66 percent. That would be the third-highest nonpresidential turnout in state history.
Rossi is getting out the vote Washington-style as he travels around the state telling voters they have the potential to alter the Senate majority. Murray also made the rounds last week with the help of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and President Bill Clinton, who all dropped by cities in Democrat-rich western Washington to lend a hand.
‘We’re going from town to town to remind people to vote,’ Rossi told 50 supporters at a rally last week at his Yakima call center. ‘We just have to encourage them to put a stamp on the envelope. I mean, it’s only the future of the free world at stake.’
Rossi is running as the potential 51st GOP vote and said his election could give Republicans the 10 seats they need to win control of the Senate. A number of races have to tip in the right direction for that to happen, but in a wave election, races tend to fall the same way.
‘With nine, that gives you 50 Republican Senators and 50 Democrat Senators,’ Rossi told the crowd. ‘That puts Joe Biden in charge. But with 10 seats and 51 Republicans, that makes Joe Biden irrelevant. Everyone get why this is so important?’
[IMGCAP(1)]Located in the middle of the state, Yakima is an agriculture hub, producing a variety of fruits, wine and 70 percent of the country’s hops, a main ingredient in beer.
Many of the apples eaten on Capitol Hill, including the trendy Honeycrisp, come from here, and the valley’s predominantly Republican voters could help send Rossi to the Hill as well.
‘This county is so important to this election,’ Rossi said. ‘There are so many votes here that we just have to encourage people to get out and put a stamp on the envelope.’
Local Republican leaders are ready for a change in representation. Yakima County GOP Chairman Max Golladay said he knows ‘what the sitting Senator stands for,’ such as the big-ticket legislative items that Democrats passed over the past two years, ‘and now somebody’s got to pay for it.’
‘It comes down to whether you want the government to do everything,’ said Republican state Sen. Curtis King, ‘or whether you want to leave it to the people and free enterprise to make the decisions.’
A day after Rossi’s Yakima visit, Murray welcomed Obama to Seattle to highlight women’s issues and get out young voters, who helped Obama carry the state by 18 points in 2008.
‘If you haven’t already voted for Patty Murray, let me be clear: You need to go right after this rally, fill out that ballot and mail it in,’ Obama told a crowd of 10,000 at the University of Washington. ‘If everybody who voted in 2008 shows up in 2010, we will win this election. But you’ve got to come out and vote.’
Democrats are heavily targeting women, who make up 53 percent of the state’s electorate, in the campaign’s final days.
Murray knows that demographic well. Running as just ‘a mom in tennis shoes,’ she first was elected to the Senate in 1992, the ‘Year of the Woman.’
‘This is the only state that has a woman for governor and two women for Senators,’ Murray said at the rally after listing several champion womens teams in the state. ‘I think it’s fair to say Washington state women win. … We all know what winning means here. It means never throwing in the towel, never giving in and never, ever sitting on the sidelines.’
A new ad launched Monday by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee slams Rossi on women’s issues.
‘Why would the women of Washington ever trust Dino Rossi?’ a narrator in the ad says.
Steve Excell, the state assistant secretary of state, said the airwaves have been saturated with political ads for the Senate race, the state’s three competitive House races and a handful of ballot initiatives that have drawn millions of dollars in spending.
‘I don’t think there’s an ad for peanut butter or insurance or anything right now,’ Excell said. ‘Normally we’re kind of sleepy and quiet. I haven’t seen anything this supercharged in a long, long time in this state.’
At more than $14 million, the Washington Senate race has attracted the third-most outside spending of any race, behind only the Senate races in Colorado and Pennsylvania, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
That total includes the party committees. The DSCC just spent another $576,000 in the state, upping its independent expenditure investment to $2.7 million.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee dropped $200,000 last week and has now spent more than $2.8 million on IEs with at least another $1 million left to spend. The committee expects to finish with a total of $4.9 million spent on the race.
‘As evidenced by the financial commitment the NRSC is making in this race, we view this as one of the most competitive Senate races in the country,’ NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said.
DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) wrote in a memo Monday that the committee’s voter modeling showed the partisan divide of early voters at about 2 points ‘ 39 percent Democrat, 37 percent Republican.
On top of that, Menendez wrote, ‘Our modeling shows that Murray has an edge over Rossi with Independents who have voted.’
That partisan divide is in the neighborhood of where former Washington Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said he sees the electorate overall, unlike the modeling used by some recent public polls that found Murray with a wide lead. Up until last week, polling had been all over the map.
‘I see it dead even, a coin flip,’ Vance said. ‘I have talked to Republican and Democratic pollsters who believe that the partisan gap in Washington state is somewhere between 0 and 5’ points.
Vance pointed to Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm that polled the race recently using a 37 percent Democrat, 34 percent Republican model. It found Murray ahead 49 percent to 47 percent, within the margin of error. It also showed Murray with a 47 percent job approval rating, with 48 percent disapproving.
Vance called that ‘credible’ and said the difference will come over the last week of the campaign.
In that time, Rossi will continue to urge voters that Murray has simply been in Washington too long, and that sending her back for another six years could prove costly.
‘I honestly ran for governor because I wanted to fix my state, but the way these folks are going in D.C. there isn’t going to be much of a state left,’ Rossi said in an interview last week in Olympia. ‘You know, I think we’re heading for bankruptcy.’
Rossi also emphasized his work in the state Senate, when he balanced the state budget as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee without raising taxes.
‘So when I talk about these issues ‘ about balancing budgets ‘ I actually know what I’m talking about. I’ve done it,’ he said. ‘I’ve written the budget for my state before, but I’ve not written a federal budget. But people are people, budgets are budgets, politics are politics.’
Rossi ran for governor twice, including a 2004 bid in which he lost by just 133 votes, according to the final tally released eight months after the election. While he admits those two statewide bids allowed him to ‘start on third base’ when he entered the race in May, Ron Dotzauer, a former veteran Democratic strategist in the state, said he thinks Rossi’s three bids in six years may be causing some voter fatigue.
‘I believe that a different candidate in this political environment could have mounted an even greater challenge to Patty Murray,’ Dotzauer said. ‘There is a Rossi fatigue factor with the independent, undecided voters in Washington state. We won’t see it and won’t be able to measure that in research, but it’s just a feeling that I’ve got that there is a slight fatigue factor with this.’
Dotzauer said Murray’s internal polling showed the incumbent up by about 4 points as of Friday. While that is not a bad place to be as an incumbent this cycle, it means Rossi is in a position to win.
‘We have this in the palm of our hands,’ Rossi told the Yakima crowd. ‘We have poll after poll after poll that say we can win this race. And we need to.’