For the top two candidates for one of Washington’s U.S. Senate seats, bolstering the economy and handling record-high inflation are top priorities.
But five-term Sen. Patty Murray and political newcomer Tiffany Smiley disagree on how to get there – and who’s to blame.
Heading into the Aug. 2 primary, Murray faces 17 challengers, but early campaign contributions and party support point to Smiley as her likely opponent in November.
Having been first elected in 1992, Murray is the sixth-most-senior member of the Senate and third-most-senior Democrat – one of the most powerful people in the Senate right now. She is currently the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Smiley is a political newcomer from Pasco. She has been a veterans advocate since 2005 after her husband, Scott Smiley, was blinded in a suicide bombing in Iraq. She refused to sign his U.S. Army discharge papers, left her job as a nurse and cared for him as he became the nation’s first blind active-duty Army officer.
Each candidate has drawn millions of dollars in donations, spent millions on early television ads and garnered support from their respective major party.
Smiley’s biggest donations come from national Republican committees and groups dedicated to getting Republican senators elected. Murray’s biggest donations come from similar groups on the Democratic side.
The others running have raised no more than a couple hundred dollars, according to the Federal Election Commission, and they have not received any endorsements from the major parties.
Smiley said she is running because she thinks Washington state is heading in the wrong direction. She said Murray’s power in the Senate doesn’t mean anything if she doesn’t deliver results, citing increasing costs and rising crime.
“If leadership really mattered, we wouldn’t be on this path,” Smiley said.
For Murray, there is still work to be done.
“The last few years have been challenging and difficult for absolutely everybody,” Murray said. “I want to be there to continue what I have done for a long time, and that’s be a voice for the people of Washington state.”
Smiley has criticized Murray for being out of touch with Washington residents. If elected, she said she would support term limits for lawmakers.
“This means that I know I only have a limited amount of time to accomplish what I want to on the behalf of Washington voters,” she said. “When I go to D.C. I will be laser-focused on building coalitions to achieve those goals, not on party politics that lead to gridlock.”
Murray said she is traveling to and from Washington every week and that she is in “constant communication” with people across the state about what’s happening in their part of the state and how she can be their voice in Washington, D.C.
“They’re not Republican, independent, Democrat,” she said. “Those are people and families that I represent and am absolutely dedicated to making sure I work hard to make their lives better for them.”
Both Murray and Smiley have concerns about rising costs and record-high inflation, but have differing ideas on how to address it.
Smiley has been critical of Murray for not doing enough to lower costs for families.
If elected, Smiley said she would focus on making a balanced budget and reining in “frivolous spending.” She said transparency and efficiency are needed to lower costs.
Murray said she wants to focus on lowering costs of things including prescription drugs and child care to help families.
She said Congress needs to work to improve the supply chain moving forward. She pointed to the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which invested billions of dollars nationally and locally in infrastructure.
Other issues on the candidates’ minds are abortion, gun rights and crime.
On abortion, Smiley has said the decision regarding abortion regulations should remain up to the states.In Washington, voters have decided to allow abortions up to 24 weeks. If those laws ever change, it should be because the voters chose it, Smiley’s press secretary Elisa Carlson wrote in an email.
She criticized Murray for supporting what she calls an “extreme position” on abortion.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Murray criticized the decision and Republicans for “ripping away our rights.” She called on the federal government and President Joe Biden to do more protect abortion access statewide.
Following the shooting in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers, Murray helped lead the Senate to pass bipartisan gun safety legislation that enhanced background checks for those under 21, increased investments in mental health and gave states incentives to pass red flag laws.
Upon its passing, Murray said the package was not everything that’s needed to end gun violence but that it took meaningful steps toward saving lives.
On gun regulations, Smiley would not comment on specific gun legislation or policy idea, but said that more needs to be done to increase mental health resources and improve school safety and support. She also said every school should have resource and police officers.
Smiley said Washington is facing rising crime and wants to work to make sure law enforcement is fully funded.
Smiley’s endorsements include former Washington state senator and gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidate Dino Rossi; the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs; former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and former U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley.
Murray’s endorsements include a number of county Democratic parties, including Spokane; the Alliance for Gun Responsibility; the Planned Parenthood Action Fund; and the National Education Association/Washington Education Association.
Other candidatesOther candidates include a data scientist, a rail worker, an engineer, a former state employee, business owners and others. There are five Democrats, two Republicans, one Trump Republican, one JFK Republican, four independents, one Socialist Workers Party member and two candidates with no party preference.
Of the 16 other people on the ballot, none has gained support from major parties or raised significant amounts of money.
Republican John Guenther, a state employee in Spokane, is running because of the “horrific way we have approached money in relation to politics.” With the amount of debt the country is in, he said it is “unconscionable” that politicians accept as much money campaigning as they do.
“I haven’t taken a nickel from anybody at all, and a lot of people have offered,” he said.
He said Congress needs to stop passing massive bills, such as the COVID-19 relief laws or the bipartisan infrastructure package. He said he also supports term limits and thinks the country is making “huge strides backwards” in education. He also supports fully funding the police and leaving the issue of abortion rights up to the states.
Independent Naz Paul, a construction company owner, is running because she does not think the two-party system “cares for the common citizen.”
She wants to provide tax breaks and financial aid to small businesses, provide permanent residency to law-abiding immigrants who have lived in the country more than 10 years, restructure the student loan system and make prescription drugs and health insurance more affordable.
Henry Clay Dennison, a rail worker, is running as the Socialist Workers Party candidate. He also ran for governor in 2020. The party, which often puts forth candidates for major offices each primary, focuses on giving working people a chance to organize, defend themselves and “make gains amid deepening world capitalist crises,” Dennison wrote in his voters guide statement.
“Only a revolutionary government of workers and farmers can build a society in the interests of the majority,” Dennison wrote. “That’s what the SWP fights for.”
Democrat Bryan Solstin, an engineer from Seattle, is running to fix the country’s broken monetary system by expanding the use of Bitcoin, which he says eliminates “the magic money printer” and “inflation.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said John Guenther was a former state employee, but he is a current employee.