On this, Patty Murray and Tiffany Smiley agree: It has been a tough few years.

“Some of the toughest years that I can remember,” said Murray, a Democrat and Washington’s senior U.S. senator. “From the pandemic and the economic crash, all of what happened to every single family and their ability to put food on the table.”

“I always ask folks, everywhere I go,” said Smiley, a first-time candidate. “Do you want more of the past two years? And they always say ‘no.’ Skyrocketing inflation, higher gas prices, more empty shelves at the grocery store.”

As she campaigns for a sixth, six-year Senate term, Murray, 71, would like to remind voters of the strides the nation’s made in bouncing back from the depths of the pandemic and the 2020 election: hundreds of millions of vaccines delivered, aid to schools and small businesses, a democracy threatened by a violent siege.

Smiley, seeking to become Washington’s first Republican senator in 22 years and the only Republican in a statewide office, would like to remind voters worried by inflation, crime, homelessness and opioids that Murray has been in office for 30 years and Democrats control Congress and the White House.

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In a state that has voted for a Democrat in nine straight presidential elections, Murray is running ads showing Smiley posing happily with former President Donald Trump. Smiley’s first vote in the Senate, Murray tells voters, would be to make Mitch McConnell majority leader.

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Smiley, 41, is fond of pointing out just how long Murray has been in D.C. She was 11 years old when Murray was first elected to the Senate.

Murray and Smiley are just two of 18 candidates in August’s primary election, but they are all but assured to advance to face each other in the general.

Their respective parties have lined up behind them, and no other candidate in the race has raised more than a few hundred dollars, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Murray has raised more than $10 million since 2020, and began this election cycle with an additional $4 million from past fundraising. She raised about $2.6 million in the past three months and has about $6.6 million in her campaign chest, her campaign said.

Smiley, a veterans advocate and former nurse, has proved a prodigious fundraiser for a first-time candidate, raising about $6.7 million, more than 15 times what Murray’s 2016 opponent raised for his entire campaign. She raised $2.6 million over the last three months and has about $3.5 million in her campaign chest, her campaign said.

She’s been fueled by a national political environment seen as favorable to Republicans, repeated appearances on Fox News and other national conservative media and by her personal story — her husband was blinded by a suicide bomber in Iraq and she quit her job to become a full-time caregiver and advocate.

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“Washington is seen as a more viable Republican offensive possibility in 2022,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “I still think Murray is pretty clearly the favorite but it’s a more interesting race certainly than it was in 2016.”

Ballots for the Aug. 2 primary are set to be mailed out by the end of this week.

On the issues

Murray touts the Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, passed in spring 2021, the $1.9 trillion package that helped fund vaccine distribution, aided state and local governments and sent $1,400 checks to most Americans. She touted the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which will bring Washington hundreds of millions for roads, bridges, airports, drinking water systems and public transit.

On inflation, Murray mentioned supply chain issues and said we have to “go after price gouging by oil companies.” She declined to say whether she supports President Joe Biden’s proposal to suspend the federal gas tax.

“I would love to tell everybody it’s going to be lower next week,” Murray said of gas prices. “That is not going to happen, it’s going to take time.”

She pointed to two Democratic priorities that wouldn’t directly address inflation, but, she said, would lower costs for families — prescription drugs and child care. She’s pushing bipartisan legislation to allow prescription drug importation from Canada and is behind a proposal to boost federal child care spending by $200 billion annually.

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Murray, a longtime abortion rights advocate, says the first bill she’d like to pass in the next Congress is the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would legalize abortion access nationwide and prohibit state restrictions on the procedure.

The bill, which has passed the House, has already failed twice in the Senate. Murray, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down Roe v. Wade, began running ads attacking Smiley on the issue, featuring an audio clip of Smiley proclaiming herself “100% pro-life.”

Smiley says that she would not vote to legalize abortion nationally, as it was under Roe v. Wade, but also would not vote for a nationwide abortion ban.

The Supreme Court’s decision put the issue “back in the hands of the people where it belongs,” Smiley said. “It should be in the state and that’s where it’s at.”

But, Smiley says, she’s not running to talk about abortion.

“I’m going to Washington, D.C., again, to combat crime, to save our children, stop fentanyl from coming across our Southern border, to combat inflation,” she said.

She says she’ll bring “common sense ideas and solutions.” But on issue after issue, Smiley declined to answer questions about her specific policy positions and preferences.

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She wants to “rein in the out-of-control spending” that she says is fueling inflation. But, asked repeatedly to name one piece of federal spending that she would cut, Smiley did not answer.

“Everywhere we look we see out-of-control spending,” she responded. “Efficiency is the key.”

What about a couple of specific examples?

“Well, again, it’s reining in the out-of-control spending and ensuring that our government agencies are efficient and running effectively,” she said.

Pressed further, Smiley declined to offer an example.

“I’m not here to take anything away,” she said. “I’m here to add.”

Smiley, on her website, said she wants to improve “access to affordable health care.”

She declined to offer any proposals to do so, saying that insurance companies should be transparent and there should be easy pathways to becoming a doctor or nurse.

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The last time Republicans controlled Congress and the White House they made an all-out push to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Smiley refused to say whether she would support repealing the landmark health care law, calling the question a hypothetical.

On her website, Smiley says the 2020 election “raised serious questions about the integrity of our elections.”

Smiley says “Joe Biden is clearly our duly elected president” but there are concerns about election integrity.

She declined, repeatedly, to say if she had concerns about the 2020 election, just that there are concerns. People had concerns, she said, and she was “here to represent the people.”