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Obama travels to Washington to help Dems hold Murray's Senate seat

Obama travels to Washington to help Dems hold Murray's Senate seat

President Obama is in Seattle on Tuesday to help Sen. Patty Murray pull off a reelection win her party can ill afford to lose. 

Murray, a three-term incumbent and member of the Senate Democratic leadership, has run into problems that reflect the dilemma Democrats across the country are facing. 

She’s been pummeled by her likely Republican opponent, businessman Dino Rossi, for her steadfast support of the president on healthcare and financial reform. Washington state’s rocky economy is also hampering her arguments to keep her job. 

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Polls show a tight race. Murray takes 49 percent of the vote to Rossi's 46 percent in the latest survey by Public Policy. 

In an interview with The Hill, Rossi said he’s determined to take the campaign to Murray by campaigning in traditionally Democratic territory, such as the Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma. 

“We’re going to areas where a lot of Republicans don’t go,” he said. “If Republicans never show up to these places, then how do you ever get the message out?” 

Both candidates are expected to advance to the general election after Tuesday’s “top two" primary. In Washington, the entire slate of candidates appears on one ballot with the two candidates who garner the most votes advancing to the general election. 

Winning Washington is critical to Democratic hopes of holding on to the Senate, which is no longer seen as a sure thing. 

Democrats hold 59 Senate seats, but are expected to lose in North Dakota and Delaware. Polls show Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) could be another casualty, and Democrats are wary of losing an additional seat in Indiana. 

Those four losses would bring Democrats down to 55 seats. 

Washington is one of nine seats, seven of them held by Democrats, that are rated as toss-ups by Real Clear Politics. Obama has to hold on to several of those seats, particularly in states such as Washington that lean Democratic in presidential elections, to keep a working majority in the Senate. 

Obama won Washington in 2008, beating Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 17 points. But the president's approval rating in the state now stands at 49 percent. 

Obama is helping a Senate candidate whose first loyalty wasn’t to him. Murray endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in January 2008, about a month before the state’s primary that year. Obama ended up trouncing Clinton in the primary by winning 68 percent of the vote.  

Since then, Murray has been nothing but loyal to the president, and that’s hurting her in this year’s reelection effort. 

Rossi, who has promised to repeal healthcare reform and the Wall Street reform bill, has centered his criticism on Murray’s backing of the president’s agenda. 

Murray has tried to liken Rossi's opposition to Obama's agenda to support for President George W. Bush. 

"Senator Murray understands that we can't keep repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results," Julie Edwards, a spokeswoman for Murray, said in a statement. "We can't go back to the same failed policies that drove our economy into a ditch and cost the middle class jobs, savings and homes." 

A general election contest between Murray and Rossi is likely to be dominated by jobs and economic issues, much like the vast majority of other competitive races across the country in 2010. 

Washington’s unemployment rate stood at 8.9 percent in June, just below the national average of 9.5 percent. The state rate is up from 6.4 percent when Obama was elected, though it has dropped in recent months. 

On Tuesday in Seattle, Obama will meet with three small-business owners to discuss how to strengthen the economy and create jobs. Murray will attend the event along with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a former governor of Washington. Later, Obama will headline a fundraiser for Murray.
While Rossi is seen as one of the GOP’s strongest candidates, Murray has a few advantages, including help from the president. 

She’ll head into the general election with more cash. Though Rossi outraised Murray in July, the incumbent started August with $3.2 million on hand, compared to Rossi's $1.8 million. 

Murray has used her money to start a negative campaign blitz early, releasing her first television ad this month that hit Rossi for wanting to repeal the Wall Street reform bill. “Dino Rossi: the best friend Wall Street and big banks can buy,” the announcer says in the ad. 

Murray has also shown a willingness to take on friends in Washington, D.C., in order to fight for her state. Just last month, she offered an amendment to fund work on the proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada for nuclear waste, which is opposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The site would be used for storing nuclear waste from Murray’s state. 

Rossi has the experience of running twice for governor of Washington. He’s a well-known candidate, and cannot easily by labeled as an extreme candidate, such as some Republicans running for the Senate. 

Rossi hasn’t had to appeal only to a Republican primary electorate and stretch to the right because of his state’s decision to do away with party primaries. Instead, he's been able to stress his eagerness to work across the aisle — even while accepting endorsements from conservatives such as Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). 

“I genuinely welcome anybody that wants to work in good faith to turn this country around,” he said, noting that he pulled in more votes than his party’s presidential nominees during his runs for governor in 2004 and 2008. The Democrats who supported him, he said, “called themselves ‘Dinocrats.’” 

University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato calls Washington “one of the most critical barometers in the 2010 Senate elections.”
"Given Murray's strong electoral record from her very first race, and Washington's increasingly Democratic character, you wouldn't normally include this contest as a possible turnover even in a GOP-leaning year," said Sabato. 

But he called Rossi the strongest possible opponent Murray could face and even though he gives a slight edge to the incumbent heading into the fall, Sabato noted, "Murray has to worry about a reverse coattail from a weak economy and low approval ratings for Obama."