WASHINGTON – With two weeks to go, the Washington state U.S. Senate race is a virtual dead heat, with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray holding a 1-point lead, 48 percent to 47 percent, over Republican challenger Dino Rossi among likely voters, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll released Tuesday.
The outcome could determine whether Republicans pick up the 10 seats they need to regain control of the Senate.
“This is indeed a cliffhanger, any way you carve up the numbers,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which conducted the survey. “The road to a Republican majority in the Senate could go through Washington state.”
Other recent polls have shown a volatile race, with Rossi having a slim lead in some and Murray up by 6 to 8 points in others.
Murray, who ranks fourth in the Senate Democratic leadership and is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is seeking a fourth term. Although she’s had strong challengers in the past, this is by far her toughest race. Rossi, a former state legislator and a businessman, has run twice unsuccessfully for governor.
Rossi has had strong support from the GOP establishment in Washington, D.C., which was instrumental in persuading him to run. As opposed to some Democratic candidates elsewhere, Murray remains an outspoken supporter of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus measure, health care overhaul and Wall Street re-regulation.
Among all registered voters, Murray held a larger lead, 47 percent to 42 percent, but Miringoff said that likely voters indicated they would almost certainly vote and that they reflected a more accurate picture of the race.
If the Washington state race is as close as the poll shows, the outcome could take days or weeks to determine. Rossi lost his first race for governor by 133 votes. It took 58 days to determine a winner, and then a court case challenging the outcome stretched into early June of the following year.
Forty-seven percent of Washington state voters told the pollster they were independents, 32 percent said they were Democrats and 21 percent said Republicans.
Tuesday’s poll found Democrats lined up overwhelmingly behind Murray, Republicans overwhelmingly behind Rossi and the crucial block of independent voters breaking for Rossi 57 percent to 36 percent.
There was a major gender gap. Women supported Murray 55 percent to 41 percent, while men supported Rossi 53 percent to 41 percent.
Murray had a 17-point lead over Rossi in voter-rich King County, which is vital for Democrats who are running statewide. Rossi was running strong, 59 percent to 35 percent, in Eastern Washington. The two were in a virtual tie in the greater Puget Sound region, and Rossi held a narrow lead on the Olympic Peninsula and in southwest Washington.