If 2016 is a year to prosecute a case against the political establishment, Exhibit 1 might be Washington’s U.S. Senate race, which features a 24-year incumbent against 16 challengers of various political stripes.
Democrat Patty Murray faces her main Republican challenge from Chris Vance, a former legislator, King County councilman and state GOP chairman, who is trying to paint the person who first ran and won as “just a mom in tennis shoes” as part of the political establishment.
“She’s one of the most partisan people in Washington, D.C.,” Vance contends, saying Murray votes overwhelmingly with her party and has twice headed the committee dedicated to electing Democrats to the Senate.
Not so, counters Murray, who said she worked with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to revise No Child Left Behind. Alexander was recently quoted in Politico as calling Murray “results oriented. … We can focus on the 80 percent we agree on and fight about the 20 percent another day.”
Murray also points to her work on the budget deal to end the 2013 federal government shutdown with now-House Speaker Paul Ryan when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee: “I was able to work with Chairman Ryan when no one else did.”
The compromise they reached, subsequently approved by a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, lifted severe budget cuts, raised the debt limit and ended a partial shutdown. It was praised by some as a model for bipartisan cooperation. Vance, however, calls it “negotiated articles of surrender” that kept the government open but did not solve the debt crisis.
The growing federal debt is a top issue for Vance – he calls it a “crusade” – who supports a combination of program cuts and tax increases proposed by the commission appointed by President Barack Obama and headed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles.
“People in Congress don’t have the guts to do it,” he said, adding that Murray is part of the problem but “not the whole problem.” Both parties share the responsibility, he said.
A recent Vance ad shows Murray in her first U.S. Senate campaign in 1992, criticizing the federal debt, which was then $4 trillion. It grew to more than $19 trillion while she’s been in office, he said.
It grew in part because of things she opposed, Murray said, like wars in the Middle East that weren’t paid for and tax cuts for people in the upper income brackets. Some work on the debt and deficit took place when the economy was declining and Congress had to be careful about the impact of changes.
“No one is blameless, but no one has worked harder on this than I have,” she said.
Murray said she first ran in 1992 to deal with issues “important to everyday people” like health care and the economy. Twenty-four years later, she’s still passionate about that, and the issues have expanded to include things like rising gun violence, a tax system that benefits working families, and college affordability after a recession that saw significant cuts in state support of public colleges and sharp tuition increases.
The issues from the presidential election spill over into the Senate race, which presents more challenges for Vance than Murray. A longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton, Murray echoes national calls to raise the minimum wage, reduce college costs, require equal pay for equal work and enact campaign finance reform.
Vance, a candidate who releases lengthy position papers and posts videos about issues on his website, struggles to focus voter and media attention on anything besides the Republicans’ controversial nominee, Donald Trump. Before Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out of the presidential race, it was possible to talk about an array of issues including a state economy that’s still struggling outside the Seattle core.
“I want this election to be about people mad at Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Since Cruz and Kasich dropped out, he’s seen a shift in interest, and the only thing people bring up is Trump. “People want to know how do you feel about Donald Trump. How do you feel about the latest thing he’s said?”
Months ago, Vance made it clear that he would not back Trump and has stuck to that decision. “I can’t lie. I can’t vote for him and I can’t hide it,” he said.
Although he received some criticism from leaders of the state’s Trump campaign, the state party has fully integrated him into its campaign plans.
Trump may be one of the few things Murray and Vance agree on. In announcing he wouldn’t vote for the presumptive nominee, Vance used words like “naive,” “wrongheaded” and “insane.” Murray accuses Trump of “hateful talk” that’s dividing America.
“I want my kids and grandkids to grow up in a country where we treat each other with respect,” she said.
The two “name” candidates share the Aug. 2 primary ballot with three other Democrats, three other Republicans, a Libertarian, three independents and a variety of minor parties. The candidates with the most and second-most votes advance to the general election, regardless of the party preference listed after their name.
Scott Nazarino, a financial services adviser from Sammamish, is positioning himself as the alternative to Vance who supports Trump, picking up the endorsement from the state Trump campaign chairman and hoping to get a large chunk of the 455,000 Republicans who voted for him in the presidential primary, plus some disaffected Democrats.
But he’ll have to vie for those Trump voters with Eric Makus, a Seattle attorney who says the presumptive nominee won “fair and square.” He accuses Vance of “turning his back” on those voters and says they deserve someone who’s going to represent them.
Uncle Mover, formerly Mike the Mover and before that Michael Shanks, runs almost every year as a way to get some cheap advertising for his Seattle moving company. In a split from the rest of the field, he’d like to see a ticket with Mitt Romney for president and Bernie Sanders for vice president.
Mohammad Said, an Ephrata physician, also runs regularly for office to highlight his proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis with a nonreligious nation under a constitution similar to the United States. Asked if he expects a different outcome from his previous unsuccessful runs, he replied: “Very frankly, I do not.”
Thor Amundson, a carpenter with 30 years in that trade, ran for the Senate in 1998 “so I had myself to vote for” and took a shot at Central Washington’s congressional seat in 2002. This year he has a small campaign organization, and Thor 2016 signs are popping up in Yakima and elsewhere. Although he’s never held office, he said he watches lots of C-SPAN and believes he can catch on quickly. “I think I can make a difference,” he said.
Philip Cornell, a retired communications worker, said he can’t support Murray because she supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. “If we thought NAFTA was bad, this is worse,” he said.
Independents and other parties
Mike Luke was a Republican but became a Libertarian in January, in part because he believes the country needs more than just the standard two-party choice and decided to be part of the Libertarians’ push for a slate of candidates. An early entry on filing week, he didn’t expect a 17-person race but thinks that will divide the vote so many ways that “everybody’s a wild card.”
Chuck Jackson is a ship engineer from Anacortes who ran for Senate in 2010 as a Republican but is running this year as an independent because he’s lost respect for both parties. Like Vance, he thinks the debt is the nation’s biggest problem and says “if you want to change things, you’ve got to get to where you can do something.”
Ted Cummings, a Kaiser Trentwood worker who also operates a ranch in Chattaroy, is a novice candidate also running as an independent. He admits he’s getting an education on the whole political system. He questions Murray’s competency and wants to address problems with the economy and debt, keep businesses from sending jobs overseas and restore trust in people in office. “I’m still curious to see how it all turns out,” he said.
Donna Rae Lands, owner and operator of an RV park in Newport, has her party preference listed on the ballot as Conservative but said that’s just a description of her political beliefs, not an actual party. She was formerly a Republican “but all they ever did was ask me for money” and briefly joined the Democrats because “they had good barbecues.” She doesn’t think Murray looks out for her as a citizen, and while she’s never held office, she’s been involved in local issues and describes herself as “a really good person to catch on quickly.”
Sam Wright, a retired fisheries research scientist, is running to recruit people to the Human Rights Party, which he started. It has three main goals: universal health care through a national insurance system; reduced or no tuition for some postsecondary education; and capital gains tax rates that are the same as earned income.
Pano Churchill, a venture capitalist, said he is one of seven candidates around the country for the nascent Lincoln Caucus Party that hopes to use the 16th president to combat big government, big business and big labor. “We are all tired of the two major political parties because of the corruption,” he said.
Jeremy Teuton, a research scientist in Pasco, started the System Reboot Party after watching the recent primaries and realizing many people were fed up like he is. “I got tired of waiting for someone to run who I can support,” he said.
Zach Haller, another independent, and Alex Tsimerman, of the StandUP-America Party, are also on the ballot but did not return calls requesting an interview for this story.
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