Murray leads Rossi on strong King County vote
Defying a national Republican wave, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray jumped to an early lead Tuesday night over Republican challenger Dino Rossi.
Seattle Times political reporter
Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray held a lead Tuesday night over challenger Dino Rossi, raising hopes among her supporters that she would survive the national GOP wave.
Hundreds of Democrats who gathered at the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle cheered as results in Western Washington helped propel Murray ahead.
The race was close, with Murray leading Rossi by 1 percentage point Tuesday night, with about 1.5 million votes counted.
But the electoral math seemed to favor the three-term incumbent. She captured 62 percent of the votes counted Tuesday night in King County. It's estimated nearly 350,000 additional votes remain to be counted there — more than a third of the total uncounted votes statewide.
Murray beamed as she took the stage shortly after 10 p.m. "We are winning tonight. We are gonna win even bigger tomorrow. We are gonna win this race," she said as the crowd erupted in cheers of "Patty, Patty!"
At their Bellevue election-night party, Republicans were buoyed by national GOP gains — the stereo blared the tune "Another One Bites the Dust" as Democrats fell in congressional races elsewhere — but they were less certain of Rossi's chances.
"Tonight is about a course correction across the nation. We don't know what is going to happen in this state, whether the course correction is going to hit Washington fully. You know Washington, you know how it is," Rossi said.
After his brief speech Rossi darted between black curtains behind the stage. "There are still a lot of ballots left to be counted," he said as he exited.
Former Republican U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton predicted there would be no final result Tuesday night in the Murray-Rossi contest, but he noted Washington didn't seem to follow the same mood as the rest of the country.
"Washington is kind of a lagging political indicator," he said. "Dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the administration has pervaded much of the country, but not here."
In the run-up to the midterms, Washington's Senate race took on national significance as one of a handful that would determine control of the U.S. Senate. While Republicans seized a majority in the U.S. House on Tuesday, they fell short in their effort to win the Senate, regardless of the outcome here.
More than $40 million was spent on the Washington Senate race, making it one of the most expensive and hard-fought in the nation.
Washington's vote-by-mail system could leave the outcome of the Senate race and other close contests in doubt for weeks. Statewide, as many as 1 million ballots remain to be counted, elections officials estimated.
Republicans made significant gains in the state, picking up at least one congressional seat.
In Southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District, Democrat Denny Heck conceded to Republican Jaime Herrera in the race to succeed retiring Democrat Brian Baird. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen was narrowly trailing Republican challenger John Koster in early returns for northwest Washington's 2nd District.
Democrats also lost ground in Olympia, with Republican challengers defeating some Democratic incumbents.
Voters repudiated new taxes on soda and candy pushed through by Democrats earlier this year to help solve a state budget crisis. A proposed state income tax was soundly rejected, going down even in King County.
"It's already a good year in Washington state. It's a great night for Republicans," Attorney General Rob McKenna told the GOP crowd in Bellevue, citing those results.
"The pendulum has swung. Now what we need to do is to govern. And to get ready for 2012. Go ahead and take tomorrow off, and we'll get started on 2012 on Thursday," he said in reference to the next presidential election — and perhaps his own gubernatorial ambitions.
Murray held a lead in King, Snohomish and several other Western Washington counties. King County, where she ran strong, has nearly a third of the state's registered voters. Rossi dominated Eastern Washington.
A recount would be triggered if the race winds up closer than one-half of 1 percent and within 2,000 votes.
It was another wave — a Democratic one — that catapulted Murray to the U.S. Senate 18 years ago.
Then a relatively unknown state lawmaker campaigning as a "mom in tennis shoes," Murray won in a 1992 victory as part of the so-called "year of the woman," which tripled the number of women in the Senate.
Over the years, Murray continued to play up her humble roots, saying she fought for the average working family, even as she accumulated seniority and influence in Washington, D.C., and became one of the top recipients of lobbyist campaign cash.
This year, Murray struggled against voter anger over high unemployment and huge budget deficits.
If Rossi prevails, he'd become the first Republican to represent Washington state in the Senate since Slade Gorton lost to Maria Cantwell in 2000.
It would be a remarkable comeback for the two-time gubernatorial candidate whose 2004 loss to Democrat Chris Gregoire was the closest in state history.
After losing a rematch in 2008, Rossi appeared to be finished with politics. He was lured into the Senate race in the spring by GOP leaders fearful they didn't have a quality challenger to Murray.
A former state legislator and real-estate investor, Rossi focused intensely on government spending throughout his campaign. But he frequently refused to be specific about where he'd cut the federal budget.
Murray countered that Rossi would actually make the budget deficit worse by insisting on preserving $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Rossi also attacked congressional earmarks, saying that senators scrapping for dollars for local projects was part of the waste and corruption in D.C.
He vowed not to pursue such earmarks and to seek a ban on them until the federal budget is balanced.
Murray remained an unabashed defender of earmarks and argued the state benefits from her ability to steer millions of dollars to worthy local projects
Times reporters Craig Welch and Lynda V. Mapes contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.