OLYMPIA — Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi formalized their November matchup today, emerging as expected from Washington state’s “top two” primary by comfortable margins.
With about 59 percent of the expected vote counted in unofficial results, Murray claimed first place with about 46 percent of the vote. Rossi took the second spot with about 34 percent.
Washington’s unusual primary lists all candidates on a single ballot and winnows the field to two for the general election, regardless of the candidates’ party. Conservative Republican Clint Didier, a former NFL tight end who attracted support from tea party activists, was in third place with about 12 percent of the vote.
Murray and Rossi have been campaigning against each other for weeks in a race that could be crucial to any Republican hopes of gaining control of the Senate. The candidates dove right into their fall matchup, with Murray saying Rossi’s positions were reminiscent of former President George W. Bush.
“I think that the people of our state, and really our country, don’t want us to go back to what we had. We’re taking the hard steps forward.” Murray said. “Are we there yet? No. But we are working hard every day, and I know what we need to do.”
Rossi, who has campaigned mainly against federal spending and the national debt, declared that he would put Washington, D.C., on “a pork-free diet.”
“People understand that we’re spending too much money,” Rossi said. “They know that you can’t keep borrowing from the Chinese and Saudis and printing money and expect all that to pan out just fine, because it won’t.”
Murray enjoyed a primary-day visit from President Barack Obama, part of the president’s national tour to help Democratic candidates.
In his first visit to the state as president, Obama headlined two fundraising events for Murray and the state Democratic Party. The expected haul was estimated at about $1.3 million.
At a Seattle hotel, Obama told a packed fundraising luncheon that “the country needs Patty.”
“I can tell you we would not have been able to get some of the critical things we got done this year had it not been for her leadership. So make sure you send her back to Washington, please,” Obama said.
Nearly all of Washington’s 3.6 million voters use absentee ballots, with only one county still offering traditional polling places. Ballots were mailed statewide in late July and must be postmarked or dropped off by Tuesday.
Rossi was heavily recruited by national Republican officials to challenge Murray, who has regularly polled below 50 percent in this campaign. Rossi finally announced his campaign in late May, just days before the deadline for registering as a candidate.
Since then he has sought to turn one of Murray’s chief strengths, the ability to deliver federal money, into a liability.
Murray has not run from her record of bringing federal spending to the state, pointing out jobs that were bankrolled by such efforts and warning that a freshman senator who decries earmarks would simply surrender that money to other states.
Brian Kenny, 37, of Seattle, said he was supporting Murray because he likes the Democratic agenda that’s been advanced since Obama took office.
“I supported health care reform, financial reform and energy reform. I think Rossi would obstruct that. I don’t see viable solutions from the right,” Kenny said.
Matt Martin, 42, of Kenmore, was among those protesting outside Obama’s first fundraiser for Murray. Holding a sign that said “Pork Patty” with a drawing of a pig with Murray’s likeness, Martin said he’d supported Didier — but was mostly motivated to defeat Murray.
“I’m going to vote for the conservative candidate, whichever one it is, in the actual election,” he said.