OLYMPIA -- Democrat incumbent Patty Murray leads Republican challenger Dino Rossi in a "highly partisan" race, a new poll by Elway Research Inc., suggests.
If they were voting today, half of the 500 likely voters contacted by the company late last week or over the weekend said they'd vote for Murray, who is seeking her fourth term; 41 percent said they'd vote for Rossi, a former state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate.
While Democrats were strongly for Murray and Republicans strongly for Rossi, the GOP challenger had the edge among independent voters and stronger leads in Eastern Washington, in Pierce and Kitsap counties and among voters making more than $75,000 a year. Murray was doing best in King County and among women, Baby Boomers, retirees, and those making less than $50,000 a year.
Jennifer Morris, a spokeswoman for Rossi, said she considered the results "a little iffy" considering other polls had a closer race. "Even the Democrats put out a poll last week that had it closer," she said.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had a poll last week that pegged the race at 50 percent Murray, 45 percent Rossi.
Murray's campaign refused to comment on the poll. "Sen. Murray is focused on reaching out to the voters, not on the polls," spokeswoman Julie Edwards said.
Some previous polls have had Rossi ahead. H. Stuart Elway said some variation may be a result of the ways the various surveys are conducted; some pollsters use recorded scripts that ask respondents to press a number on the phone to answer questions while his used live interviewers and only interviewed likely voters.
Seven percent of the voters -- enough to decide the election -- remain undecided, Elway said. If they split evenly, Murray would win handily, but a more conservative approach suggests that about three fourths of those undecided voters would be likely to vote for Rossi because if they were going to vote for the incumbent they'd already know it. That would make it a much closer race, but still in Murray's favor.
But any path to victory for Rossi means he'll have to go after voters who currently support Murray, Elway said. "And you thought this campaign has been hard-hitting so far."