You would be hard pressed to find the name of Patty Murray on any list of vulnerable Senate incumbents this year. The three-term Washington Democrat, an unlikely winner in 1992, has solidified her standing both back home and in that "other" Washington, on Capitol Hill. Six years ago, she was challenged by Rep. George Nethercutt — best known for his ousting House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994 — but she defeated him with relative ease.
This year, she was looking even stronger, with a ton of money in the bank and facing opposition from Clint Didier, a farmer and former Washington Redskin tight end who has been endorsed by Tea Party groups, as well as Sarah Palin. Didier has been criticized for accepting federal farm subsidies, a position that seemingly puts him at odds with Tea Party philosophy. State Sen. Don Benton (R) is also running.
Republicans had long been trying to get another candidate in the race, and on Wednesday they accomplished their goal: Dino Rossi, a former state senator who lost the 2004 gubernatorial contest by just 129 votes out of 2.8 million cast — but who lost the 2008 rematch by a much larger margin — officially announced he was in the Senate contest.
Washington has an open primary, where all candidates appear on the same ballot, and the top two finishers of each party advance to the general election. This is thought to be an advantage for Rossi, whose two statewide runs have made him a familiar figure.
In the past, Murray has faced sitting House members; in addition to Nethercutt, she ran against Linda Smith in '98 and Rod Chandler in '92.
But GOP leaders, including those in that other Washington, are unlikely to make the mistake they made in other states: anointing a favorite and then watching as that favorite was overtaken by the Tea Party/conservative grass roots. They seem to be welcoming Rossi as just another candidate.
There is also the possibility that Rossi's two defeats may make him damaged goods.
The odds of the GOP capturing the Senate in November are still long; Republicans need a net gain of ten seats. But if they are to do it, they've got to win seats like Murray's.
Republican Dino Rossi in 2008.