It may be early, but U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is leaving no doubts as to her plans to seek a fifth term in 2016.
In an interview in Seattle last week, Murray declared she’ll run again — even if Democrats lose their Senate majority in this fall’s midterms, as some analysts predict.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘Gosh, why do you want to keep doing it?’ It’s a question that deserves to be answered. I’d really rather be in the middle of the debate fighting for the people of Washington state rather than yelling at my television,” she said.
Murray won her narrowest-ever re-election victory in 2010, surviving a Republican wave and beating Republican Dino Rossi with 52 percent of the vote.
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Murray is already one of the state’s longest-serving politicians. If she wins re-election again, she would equal the 30-year Senate tenure of legendary Democrat Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson by the end of her fifth term.
She’d have to last even longer to equal Warren G. Magnuson, who served as a Democratic senator from Washington from 1944 until losing his bid for a seventh term in 1980.
Murray, 63, was first elected in 1992 by campaigning as a “mom in tennis shoes” — an image she has worked fastidiously to maintain even as she has morphed into the state’s most powerful Democratic politician.
After two decades in office, Murray rejects any suggestion she’s become a Washington, D.C., insider. She generally avoids the capital’s social scene and Sunday talk-shows, home most weekends to Whidbey Island.
“I go there (Washington, D.C.) to work. I don’t go there to live,” she said.
Murray ranks fourth in leadership among Senate Democrats, serving as conference secretary and budget committee chairwoman. She is 15th in overall seniority in the Senate, according to Roll Call.
Her national profile was elevated by her recent two-year budget deal with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
That deal was seen as a minor cease-fire in the partisan squabbling that has paralyzed Congress. It halted most of the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.
But the agreement fell short of a “grand bargain” on tax reform or entitlements that some have called for to deal with the nation’s $17.3 trillion debt.
“Getting a deal is better than having another government shutdown. But all this really did is kick the can down the road another year,” said Chris Vance, a former state GOP chairman who co-chairs the Washington chapter of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.
Vance said he’s disappointed Murray hasn’t used her power to come together with Republicans on a big-picture debt-reduction plan like the one proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission in 2010.
Asked whether it was important to push for such a plan, Murray said the fixation on the national debt distracted from other problems the federal government should be trying to solve.
“You just created the box that I think we’ve got to get out of. We have been in this manufactured budget-crisis debate, and that’s all we have focused on,” she said.
“We do have a budget deficit, we do need to deal with it — it crowds out all of our spending in the future. … We need to solve it, but we also in doing so cannot ignore the other deficits that our country has. We have a jobs deficit, we have an education deficit, we have a research-and-innovation deficit, we have an infrastructure deficit, and we need to focus on all that.”
Thomas Mann, a congressional expert with the Brookings Institution, called Murray “smart, informed and skillful in navigating an unusually dysfunctional institution.”
He said her budget deal with Ryan was “a modest deal but a constructive one” that significantly reduced the odds of a government shutdown or default over the next two years.
But, Mann said major dysfunction in Congress remains: “Ideological differences and partisan warfare, mostly on the part of the Republicans, have diminished the capacity of Congress to budget and more generally to legislate.”
Chronically described as “quiet,” “low-key” and “underestimated” in national media profiles, Murray is mentioned as a possible contender to be the next Democratic whip — or even the first female Senate Democratic leader if Nevada’s Harry Reid steps down.
It’s talk that Murray brushes off in typical fashion, saying she doesn’t give much thought to her ascent through the ranks of Democrats.
“I have never written my career in terms of what one day I am going to be. But if opportunities come up I look at them all the same,” Murray said. “How will this allow me to be the best senator possible for the state of Washington and the people I represent?”
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner