U.S. Sen. Patty Murray will face Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley in the November general election, with issues like abortion rights and inflation likely to animate their debates.
Murray, a Democrat seeking a sixth term, led Smiley by about 22 percentage points in primary election results Tuesday night, with all counties reporting.
The Seattle Times and The Associated Press quickly called the race for Murray and Smiley.
Murray received 54% of the votes counted in the statewide race, while 32% went to Smiley, according to Washington Secretary of State’s Office data. More primary votes will be counted in the coming days.
“I’m grateful to all of the voters who have placed their trust in me to be their voice in the Senate,” Murray said in a statement after Tuesday’s results were reported, warning that Republicans like Smiley are trying to “undermine our rights and our democracy.”
Also in a statement, Smiley’s campaign said the results “leave no doubt that Washington’s voters have decided it is time for a change,” describing the GOP candidate as an alternative to “six more years of Patty Murray’s failed policies and hyper partisan politics.”
There were 18 candidates on the ballot, but Murray and Smiley received all the attention in Washington state’s nonpartisan, top-two primary. Their respective parties lined up behind them and no other candidates in the contest raised much money.
Leon Lawson, identifying with the “Trump Republican Party,” had the third-most votes Tuesday night with just over 3%.
Having taken part in get-out-the-vote events in Seattle suburbs over the weekend, Murray, a longtime member of Senate Democratic leadership, spent Tuesday in Washington, D.C., voting to pass a bill to expand health care benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
Smiley joined a GOP watch party Tuesday night in Issaquah. Supporters chanted “USA! USA!” after she told the crowd her goal is to “retire Patty Murray” rather than let the incumbent “phone it in” for another term. The National Republican Senate Committee is committing $750,000 to the race, said Caleb Heimlich, who chairs the state GOP.
Murray, 71, from Bothell, first won her seat 30 years ago. She’s running on Democratic priorities like boosting child care assistance, lowering the price of prescription drugs and restoring abortion rights.
Smiley, 41, of Pasco, is a veterans advocate and former nurse trying to appeal to voters worried about inflation, border security and crime. The first-time candidate would be Washington’s first Republican senator in 22 years.
The race matters nationally, as Democrats hope to retain or enlarge their tenuous Senate majority in a crucial election year. Republicans need to flip just one seat in order to take control of the chamber.
Leading up to the primary, Smiley pointed to high gas prices and shortages in supermarkets while asking voters, “Do you want more of the past two years?” Murray reminded voters about COVID-19 recovery efforts, including millions of vaccines distributed and billions of relief dollars given out.
Smiley wants to “rein in” federal spending that she says is driving inflation but dodged questions about where she would cut. Murray said Congress should “go after price gouging by oil companies,” declining to say whether she supported President Joe Biden’s proposal to suspend the federal gas tax.
Smiley has been buoyed by appearances on Fox News and by her personal story: Her husband was blinded by a suicide bomber in Iraq, and she quit her job to become a caregiver and advocate. Murray ran ads showing Smiley posing happily with former President Donald Trump, and the incumbent told voters that Smiley’s first vote in the Senate would be to make Republican Mitch McConnell the majority leader.
Murray has said her No. 1 priority in the next Congress would be to legalize abortion access nationwide. Smiley has said she wouldn’t vote to legalize abortion nationally and also would not vote for a nationwide abortion ban. The U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in June, has put the issue back in state jurisdiction, “where it belongs,” Smiley has said.
Murray had raised $14.5 million in campaign contributions and had $6.7 million in available cash as of mid-July, according to federal records. Smiley had collected $7.1 million and had $2.3 million in cash on hand.
Murray held a 51% to 33% lead over Smiley in a poll of Washington voters conducted on behalf of The Seattle Times and partners in early July, dominating among Democratic voters and breaking even with independents. In earlier polls, Murray led Smiley by somewhat smaller margins.
In the WA Poll, Murray enjoyed strong support from women, urban voters and voters who listed abortion as the issue most important to them. Smiley did well among rural voters and voters who listed inflation as most important.
Staff reporter Mike Lindblom contributed to this report, and information from Seattle Times archives is included.