The summary of the Aug. 17 primary in Washington’s U.S. Senate race can be viewed as:
A. Incumbent Democrat Patty Murray against a field of 14 challengers, one of whom gets enough votes to run against her in the fall.
B. Murray against the best-known Republican on the ballot, former state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, in a test-run for the general election.
C. Rossi against tea party favorite Clint Didier, of Eltopia, for the right to bump off Murray in the general.
D. A three-way GOP battle among Rossi, Didier and Bellingham businessman Paul Akers, with the winner taking on Murray.
Which is right probably depends on the candidate and the political crowd nearest the observer. Murray clearly treats it as A, running on her record of three terms in the Senate, pushing programs and projects for veterans, military personnel, aerospace, families and schools in Washington.
The Democratic political machinery in Washington, D.C., began treating it as B even before Rossi officially entered the race in May. Once he got in and several announced Republican candidates got out, Rossi adopted that story line, trained his guns on Murray and generally ignored the remaining GOP field.
Didier and his supporters, who include former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former presidential hopeful Ron Paul and many libertarian-leaning conservatives in Eastern Washington, see it as C. To them, Didier’s the party’s new blood, and Rossi’s part of the establishment.
Akers is a high-energy entrepreneur who works “lean strategy” – a system of doing more with less by cutting waste and raising efficiencies – into many of his political proposals. He can wow a crowd with sheer enthusiasm and would like it to be D but faces a problem: The battle between Murray and Rossi, plus the one between Rossi and Didier, leaves very little oxygen for his campaign to catch fire.
Terms like “pork” and “earmark” may be problems for some voters this year, but Murray doesn’t shy away from announcing the programs or projects she adds into the spending bills moving through the Senate.
All three Republicans call for the federal government to cut taxes and rein in spending, differing mainly on their approach.
Akers wants to do more with less, cut waste and operate on successful manufacturing principles. Didier wants to get back to the Constitution and the original intent of the Founding Fathers, stripping the federal government of agencies including the departments of Education and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Rossi has a more nuanced approach, calling for lower, more predictable taxes and regulation, dialing back things Congress has done in recent years such as the economic stimulus and bailouts, freezing salaries and cutting growth. He cites his experience writing the state budget in 2003 as proof he understands how to make it work.
Murray is no stranger to elections that revolve around budgets. She won her first Senate term in 1992, a year that featured Ross Perot and his flip charts, she said, adding that blame for the deficit must be shared by President George W. Bush and Republicans who approved wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and an expansion of Medicare benefits without paying for them.