In their first debate of the election, GOP Senate hopeful Chris Vance cast Sen. Patty Murray as part of a broken political culture, while Murray said she’s been successful at getting things done despite the gridlock.

Share story

Republican Chris Vance blamed Sen. Patty Murray for congressional dysfunction that has driven up the national debt, while the Democrat spoke of her bipartisan work to break budget impasses and her push to invest in Washington’s economy as the two sparred Sunday night in their first debate.

In an hourlong meeting at Gonzaga University in Spokane, the two candidates took questions about issues ranging from the minimum wage to Syrian refugees. Vance, a former state GOP chairman, repeatedly criticized Murray for being part of a Capitol culture that “is broken.”

“Senator Murray talks about Washington, D.C., like she’s never been there,” Vance said. “Patty Murray is part of the problem.”

Vance, who made headlines earlier this year when he forcefully denounced GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, also had harsh words for Republicans. He said the GOP has failed by not offering something to replace the federal health-care law passed by President Obama.

“My party, the Republicans, have not been responsible and stepped up to offer alternative,” said Vance, who decried ideas that Murray supports, such as a public-government insurance option, as too expensive. But he did say he backed government subsidies for needy people to buy health insurance.

Murray, seeking her fifth term, touted her work in 2013 with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to end a federal budget stalemate as an example of how she gets things done in a divisive environment.

“Like most people, I get pretty frustrated with the dysfunction and gridlock,” Murray said.

The Democrat said she wanted to invest in the middle class to grow the state’s economy and pointed to spending money on things like education, worker retraining, ensuring paid sick leave and improving education as ways to improve people’s lives.

Vance, who has also served as a state representative and a King County Councilman, said he would work to bring down the national debt, promote international trade and reduce regulation.

The two disagreed on raising the minimum wage. Murray said she is promoting legislation that would increase the hourly federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020 so people “can get ahead in the country.”

Vance agreed that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 was too low but said raising it “too far, too fast” would hurt small businesses and didn’t make sense for all areas of the country.

The debate was cordial, and both candidates said they hoped to set that tone in light of the nasty presidential election.

“Like everyone, I am so appalled by the behavior of this election,” Murray said. “We need to return respect to our dialogue.”

Vance, who is at a decided fundraising disadvantage, is trying to become the first Republican elected to the Senate from Washington since 1992.

The candidates will meet for their second debate Oct. 23 in Redmond.