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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Republicans hopeful with Smiley Senate run, but likely face an uphill battle against longtime senator Murray

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and GOP challenger Tiffany Smiley.

There’s no doubt that Republicans are underdogs when trying to capture statewide office in Washington. They haven’t won an election for governor since 1980. They haven’t won a race for U.S. Senate since 1994. They hold no statewide offices.

But this year, state and national Republicans believe Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is vulnerable in her November re-election bid and have put their full energy and funding behind political newcomer Tiffany Smiley.

Smiley’s campaign already has collected more than $7 million. In 2018, Republican Susan Hutchinson only raised about $2 million in her campaign against Washington’s other Democratic senator, Maria Cantwell. In 2016, Republican Chris Vance raised less than half a million dollars in the race Murray last won.

And though the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade potentially has lessened the “red wave” predicted by pundits and that many Republicans were hoping for nationally, Republicans in Washington remain confident they can send Smiley to the Senate.

Polling on the race varies but shows it is getting closer as the election nears. A recent poll from the Trafalgar Group shows Murray up by less than 3 points, but polls from Crosscut/Elway last week showed Murray up by about 13 points.

The top issues in the race reflect that of candidates across the nation this midterm election.

Murray, one of the longest-serving senators , says Washington needs a voice to fight for abortion access and against the lies surrounding the 2020 elections and the Jan. 6 insurrection. Smiley, who is from Pasco, says Washington needs a new senator who will work to lower inflation and reduce crime.

Smiley quickly emerged as the top choice to face Murray this November. Smiley has been a veterans advocate since 2005 when her husband 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.

She has campaigned on being a new face for Washington’s politics, claiming Murray is not delivering results on rising crime and increasing costs for Washington despite being one of the most powerful people in the Senate .

“Senator Murray fails to address these issues that are facing Washington families every single day,” Smiley said.

Having been elected in 1992, Murray is one of the most powerful people in the Senate as the sixth-most-senior member and third-most-senior Democrat.

She serves as the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She sits on the Senate Committee on Appropriations and often touts her ability to get federal funding for Washington, most recently announcing $2 million in federal funds for Washington residents in need of diapers.

She also serves on the Budget and Veterans’ Affairs Committees. She was the first woman to chair the Veterans Affairs’ Committee in 2011.

Murray said this election is critical for the future of the country, especially when it comes to issues like abortion, inflation and the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“There is so much on the ballot that will determine where our country is going to be in the future, and who is our voice in Washington, D.C., can make an incredible difference on really important issues,” Murray said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review.

Both national parties and outside donors have spent millions in television ads to attack their opponents.

Smiley’s top donors include the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP Winning Women Victory Committee and Reclaim the Senate 2022.

NRSC spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow criticized Murray for consistently voting with President Biden’s agenda, which has led to “skyrocketing inflation and rising crime.”

“Tiffany Smiley is a strong candidate running a great campaign that has longtime D.C. insider Patty Murray on her heels,” Litzow wrote in a statement. “From the beginning of the cycle, the NRSC has been committed to expanding the map, and we’re doing just that.”

Murray has raised more than $14 million, as of Friday. Top donors include the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Blue Senate 2022 and EMILY’s List, a national group that helps Democratic women run for office.

The state Democratic Party has led a lot of the campaigning for Murray .

“Tiffany Smiley is one of the best-funded Republicans in this election cycle because she is Mitch McConnell and MAGA Republicans’ handpicked candidate and has demonstrated time and again that, if elected, she would rubber stamp their extreme agenda that will threaten Washingtonians’ right to choose, our health care, and our democracy,” spokesperson Caitlin Harrington wrote in an email.

On the issues

One of the most hotly debated issues in this race, as well as across the country, is abortion access following the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Murray said Smiley’s position on abortion is a danger to the country.

“She will not be the voice of Washington state residents who come back here and fight every day to make sure that we have in place policies to protect women’s ability to make their own health care choices, depending on their family, their doctor and their faith,” Murray said.

Despite labeling herself “100% pro-life,” Smiley has promised she would not vote for a nationwide abortion ban. She said she wants to follow the decision of Washington voters who legalized abortion in 1970.

Even so, she praised the Supreme Court decision in June that ended a woman’s right to abortion nationwide.

“Politicians shouldn’t decide women’s health care, and I believe that it belongs closest to the people,” Smiley said. “I respect the voters here in Washington state.”

Smiley said she would vote against South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks across the nation. She also said she would vote to continue to fund Planned Parenthood and give women access to health care and contraception.

Smiley has remained critical of Murray for voting on bills that she said have resulted in skyrocketing inflation for Americans. She said the Inflation Reduction Act, which Congress passed last month, won’t do anything to reduce inflation.

If elected, Smiley’s plan for addressing inflation includes permanently extending the 2017 cap on state and local tax deductions, pursuing trade agreements such as that between the United States, Mexico and Canada, and enacting policies to fund parental leave and child care expenses.

“What’s on the ballot is providing cost of living,” Smiley said.

Murray said lowering costs is a top priority for her in Congress. She said the inflation is due to supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been felt globally not just in Washington.

She said those supply chain issues include a lack of goods themselves, a lack of people producing those goods and a lack of truckers moving those goods.

“We have to address every side of this problem,” Murray said.

She said she has worked to strengthen supply chains and lower costs through the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act, which would provide subsidies to domestic semiconductor manufacturers.

She said she has worked to cap prescription drug costs and insulin costs for seniors and helped to pass the American Rescue Plan, which Murray said has added manufacturing jobs across the economy.

Murray also pointed to a need for more child care across the country so more people can get back to work, which has been one of her main focuses throughout her career.

On crime, Murray said she has worked on legislation to help keep law enforcement officers employed, to improve resources for mental health and substance abuse and to increase community intervention programs.

“It takes unified action: federal action and state action and local action,” Murray said.

Smiley has been critical of Murray’s support on legislation that Smiley said has resulted in more crime, including broad legislation from 2020 that would have created a national use-of-force standard, banned chokeholds and created more independent investigations into police misconduct. Smiley said there is a lot that can be done on a federal level to address rising crime.

She said she wants to allow law enforcement agencies to use federal grant dollars to offer hiring and retention bonuses for officers, to require that local governments fully fund their police departments in order to be eligible for funding from the Department of Justice and to make local governments that have defunded the police liable for personal and property damages, according to her public safety agenda.

She pointed to improving border security by preventing the federal government from lifting Title 42, which allows for the removal of people from the country who have been in a country where there is a communicable disease. It was activated during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to stop the spread at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Smiley said she does not want Title 42 lifted until there is “real border security” enacted to avoid more fentanyl from arriving in the United States.

Murray criticized Republican leaders earlier this year who refused to vote on a COVID-19 funding package unless a vote to reinstate Title 42 came with it.

“Title 42 is a public health tool – it should be driven by science, not politics,” she tweeted in May. “When Republicans choose to use immigrants as bargaining chips, it’s wrong and inhumane – and we need to fight back.”

Another top issue : veterans affairs.

Smiley said Murray’s work for veterans has led to “red tape a bureaucratic system that wasn’t ready for our family.”

If elected, Smiley said she would learn about the best medical electronic systems the country has and work to get them in VA clinics across the country after the Cerner system was “a complete disaster and absolutely unacceptable.”

“Veterans: That’s what I’ll go fight for,” she said. “I’ll make sure that veterans are on the top of the list, and then I’ll take the leftover bureaucratic fallout that actually cost veterans lives.”

She said she wants to work with local governments and Veterans Affairs to create a “one-stop shop” for veterans to find resources.

Murray pointed to her history working on veterans issues in the Senate, including chairing the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. She said she has worked to get VA clinics in communities across the country, to help veterans who are victims of rape or incest and to make sure their caregivers get support .

As a member of Senate committees that oversee the VA and provide funding to projects, Murray has been involved in the oversight of the Cerner computer system. She has said she is committed to fixing the faulty system and that she has worked with Cerner and Oracle, which acquired Cerner, on getting the problems addressed .

“Everyone knows when it comes to veterans health care that I work harder than anybody for solutions and accountability,” she said.

On housing, Smiley said she wants to ensure there is adequate public input and transparency before homeless shelters are built and supports an approach to provide permanent, independent housing .

Murray said supply chain issues have affected housing resources, which has increased the crisis across the state. She said she is working to add more money into the federal appropriations bill so communities can apply for grants they can use to build more housing. Murray said she is working on additional housing tax credits for people who cannot afford to build .

Murray and Smiley will debate at 5 p.m. Oct. 23 at Gonzaga University. The debate will be hosted by The Spokesman-Review and the League of Women Voters and televised by KSPS.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.