Sen. Patty Murray faces some red flags in next year’s re-election campaign: Nearly two-thirds of the voters may be willing to at least consider another candidate.
A poll of the state’s voters shows the freshman Democrat is far better known than two of her possible Republican opponents - Reps. George Nethercutt and Linda Smith.
But just under half the voters have a favorable impression of her, while about one in five has an unfavorable opinion, according to the survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research Inc.
If the economy stays strong, that will help Murray and any incumbent, said Del Ali, an analyst for the firm.
“It’s not going to be a cakewalk for her,” he said. “Voters are willing to consider another candidate, but the candidate has to be reasonable to be acceptable.”
Smith, a Vancouver Republican in her second House term, has announced she will run for the Senate. Nethercutt of Spokane, who also was elected in 1994, may announce later this week whether he will enter the GOP primary.
Murray said she was pleased with the results.
“I think they’re fine - I haven’t even started a campaign,” she said. “Eight months before my election in ‘92, they wouldn’t have been that good.”
Murray was considered a long shot when she announced her campaign against incumbent Brock Adams, who later dropped out of the race amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
The poll results for Murray also are better than a similar poll that asked about Sen. Slade Gorton before his successful 1994 re-election campaign, Ali noted.
Smith said she makes it a practice not to comment on polls, noting that she too defied the pollsters in races for the Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.
“If I made my decision based on polls, I never would have run,” she said. The current poll “doesn’t say it can’t be done and it doesn’t say it can be done.”
Nethercutt could not be reached for comment.
The poll of 826 likely voters suggests that Murray would beat either potential challenger if the election were held now.
She leads Nethercutt by 45 percent to 24 percent, and Smith by 41 percent to 31 percent. The remainder of the voters said they were undecided about how they would vote if those were their choices.
One concern for Murray, Ali said, is the fact that she doesn’t have a majority in these hypothetical matchups against either candidate.
Only one voter in three said they would vote to re-elect her, while nearly one in four would replace her and 43 percent said they would consider another candidate.
Ali, who has conducted political polls in Washington state for the last six years, believes the winning candidate for the Senate will be the one who stays closest to the political center.
“Murray can’t run too far left. Smith or Nethercutt can’t run too far right,” he said.
Nethercutt’s recent vote for the United States to leave the United Nations might be seen as extreme unless he can adequately explain his reasons, Ali said.
Nethercutt described his recent vote as a way to send a message to the United Nations to spend less money, have more fiscal controls and keep the world organization from interfering in United States’ decisions.
Abortion could be a key issue if the general election is between Murray, who supports abortion rights, and Smith, who opposes abortion. A straight “pro-choice” vs. “pro-life” split probably would favor Murray, Ali said, but a more detailed discussion over late-term or so-called partial birth abortions might help Smith.
Nethercutt, too, is opposed to abortion in most cases, but has not made it a central issue in his campaigns.
These early figures also suggest that either Republican would face a significant gender gap if the election were held now.
Murray would out-poll Nethercutt among women 51 percent to 21 percent if the election were held now, the survey suggests. She’d get 46 percent of the women’s vote compared with 27 percent for Smith.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Race for the Senate
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