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Truth-test: U.S. Senate ads from both campaigns often miss important context. Here’s a look at the Murray-Smiley race

Patty Murray, left, and Tiffany Smiley during a debate on the campus of Gonzaga University in Spokane on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022.   (Jesse Tinsley )
Patty Murray, left, and Tiffany Smiley during a debate on the campus of Gonzaga University in Spokane on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022.  (Jesse Tinsley )

With some polls showing a tightening race for Senate in Washington state, attack ads from both sides are filling mailboxes, computer screens and the airwaves.

Democratic incumbent Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley have spent millions this election cycle to attack each other.

The two candidates on Sunday will take part in their last appearance together this election in a town hall hosted by KIRO-TV in Seattle.

As the race narrows, recent reporting from Politico found that Democrats are continuing to spend millions in television ads. Most recently, Women Vote, a super political action committee affiliated with EMILY’s List, donated another $2.4 million, on top of the $4 million it already gave to Murray this year.

Murray’s ads focus mostly on criticizing Smiley’s views on abortion and painting her as an extremist. Smiley’s ads blame Murray for rising crime and costs in Washington.

But what’s really true? We take a look.

Claim: Smiley agrees with the Texas law that bans abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest and includes jail time for doctors who perform abortions.

Truthfulness: Mostly true.

Analysis: Mailers and a number of TV ads from the Murray campaign say Smiley agrees with a Texas law that bans all abortions unless the patient is facing a life-threatening condition.

The law criminalizes performing an abortion, and doctors who do so can face up to life in prison or a $100,000 fine.

The mailer from Murray’s campaign cites an article from the Hill in which Smiley is quoted saying she agrees with the Texas law, but that there are “a lot of parts of it that make it very hard for me in Washington state.”

Other than in the Hill, Smiley has not publicly said whether she specifically supports the Texas law, but she has repeatedly said she thinks abortion access should be left up to the states and voters.

Despite her support for the Texas law, Smiley has repeatedly said she would not vote for a nationwide abortion ban, although she is anti-abortion. She said it should remain at a state level to decide abortion laws, a position reaffirmed by her spokesperson Elisa Carlson in an email from The Spokesman-Review asking about the Texas law.

Smiley said she supports the will of the people in Washington who voted to legalize abortion in 1970.

Claim: Seattle residents can’t get a cup of coffee from their hometown coffee shop because there is too much crime and Murray is to blame.

Truthfulness: Probably an exaggeration, but Starbucks has attributed recent closure of some locations, including one in Spokane, in part to nearby crime problems.

Analysis: In an article that received significant attention on the West Side , Smiley stands in front of a shuttered Starbucks on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

She says the coffee shop closed because it’s too dangerous for employees to work there, blaming Murray for the rise in crime and inflation, which has raised prices for the cup of coffee.

It is true that the Starbucks that Smiley stood in front of shut its doors, citing crime and safety concerns, according to the Seattle Times. The company said the decision to close was based on how many crime complaints were logged at each store.

How much blame should be given to Murray for a rise in crime probably depends on who you ask.

Smiley has criticized Murray for voting for legislation that she says has led to more crime, including broad legislation from 2020 that would have created a national use-of-force standard for police, banned chokeholds and created more independent investigations into police misconduct.

During a Sunday debate, Murray said she has supported provisions in the American Rescue Plan to recruit and retain officers. She said crime is an issue at every level, not just the federal level, and needs to be looked at comprehensively.

Murray has also pointed to legislation surrounding mental health resources and lowering gun violence as ways that she has worked to tackle crime.

Claim: If Smiley wins, she would be the deciding vote on a nationwide abortion ban.

Truthfulness: Likely a stretch, assuming Smiley lives by her campaign promise.

Analysis: In mailers and TV ads, the Murray campaign has said the Senate is one vote short of a nationwide abortion ban and that Smiley could be that deciding vote.

If Smiley were elected to the Senate and the chamber flipped control, it is true that Republicans could take up a nationwide abortion law, but they’d likely need more than one more vote.

Even if the Senate remained tied at 50-50, passing a nationwide abortion ban would likely need at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, which Democrats would likely use to try to block the legislation.

A number of senators, including top Republicans, have also said they would not vote for Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s 15-week abortion ban.

Smiley has said she does not support Graham’s plan, as she thinks the abortion laws should be decided at a state level.

Murray’s campaign has also pointed to tweets about a nationwide abortion ban that Smiley had liked over the years.

In 2017, Smiley liked a tweet from U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers that showed support for her bill that would have banned abortions nationwide past 20 weeks or more. In 2018, she liked a tweet from Graham showing support for the same bill.

Murray’s campaign has said those are proof that Smiley would likely vote for a nationwide ban when elected.

In an email to The Spokesman-Review, Carlson did not directly address the tweets, but reaffirmed that Smiley would not support a nationwide abortion ban.

Claim: Murray has called for the removal of the four dams on the Lower Snake River.

Truthfulness: False.

Analysis: In a Sunday tweet, Smiley writes that Murray has called for the removal of the four dams, which would have “devastating impact on Washingtonians.”

In a photo with the tweet, Smiley’s campaign says the Snake River Dam removal would result in higher energy and food costs and a less reliable electrical grid.

Murray has not explicitly said she wants to remove the Snake River Dams, at least not yet.

In a report from Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year, the two say the dams should not be breached yet, at least not until all of the financial and environmental benefits they provide are replaced.

In Sunday’s debate, Murray had similar thoughts. She said plans are not in place today to breach the dams, but that there should be a plan to replace the benefits of the dams if breaching them would be the only option to save the salmon population.

In the debate, Smiley again said breaching the dams would be detrimental to Washington’s economy.

Claim: Murray voted against a bill that would give a prescription drug benefit for those on Medicare.

Truthfulness: True, but missing context.

Analysis: A recent ad from the Smiley campaign showed a video from Murray on the Senate floor in 2003 voting against the Medicare Prescription Drug bill, which restructured Medicare and added a prescription drug benefit program.

The ad quotes Murray as saying she had looked forward to the day when the Senate would pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit.

“The day is upon us, but the price of this benefit is far too high,” she says in the ad.

Murray did vote against the final version of the bill, and in statements at the time called the Medicare restructuring “flawed,” despite some provisions in the bill that she supported.

She said she had worked for years to provide “a real drug benefit to Medicare” for seniors who need it, but this bill was not enough.

“This bill would still saddle seniors with high out-of-pocket costs, while providing a meager drug benefit,” she said.

During her floor speech, Murray said seniors would be forced into “an overly restrictive health care rationing regime” if they want to receive the benefit.

This campaign cycle, Murray has also touted her support for legislation to require Medicare to negotiate costs of prescription drugs to lower costs. She also worked to cap prescription drug costs for seniors through the Inflation Reduction Act, her campaign said.

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.

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