Sen. Murray Wins Washington Senate Race

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray has won re-election in Washington state. She edged out Republican challenger Dino Rossi.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Washington state, the wait is over in the Senate race. Democrat Patty Murray will keep her seat. Tonight, she's been declared the winner in a very tight race against Republican Dino Rossi.

NPR's Martin Kaste has been watching this race from Seattle, and he joins me now. Martin, what took so long in getting these final results?

MARTIN KASTE: Well, this is something we've now come to terms with in Washington state. Washington state is almost entirely a mail-in ballot state now. We don't have polling places anymore. With the exception of one county, it's all mail-in ballot. And what that means is that there's just more mechanical process involved in counting votes here.

People start mailing in their ballots weeks ahead of Election Day, but then there's a real rush toward the end, the last couple of days. People also can drop them off at drop boxes if they want to save the stamp. But - so that means this big flood of hundreds of thousands of ballots that are in their double envelope; there's a security envelope. These envelopes are signed. The signatures have to be verified. A lot of this is also the result of a very close race in 2004 involving a recount, and a lot of questions about the validity of some of the votes - which created more security in the voting process here. So all of that just means it's a slower, more meticulous process here.

And as people have been voting - as the counties have been counting these ballots, they've basically been catching up with that final backlog we saw in the last two days before the official Election Day.

NORRIS: And another close race here. Patty Murray, it appears, did pretty well in King County, and it sounds like that made all the difference.

KASTE: Yeah, that last rush I was talking about, it was really pronounced in King County - which is where Seattle is, the Seattle metro area. It was really interesting that on Election Day, there are still three actual polling places for people with disabilities, people who don't necessarily want to fill out or can't fill out a paper ballot. But you know, normally, very few people show up there. All of a sudden, there were long lines of just regular voters wanting to vote, saying they had misplaced their ballots or couldn't find it - whatever the excuse was - and they were allowed to vote. That was indicative of a general wave of last-minute voting, and it turns out those people were mainly Democrats.

The rush of votes that came in on Monday and Tuesday in King County, which is the most populous county, seem to be breaking for the Democrat. It almost seems like the Democrats in the state had a sudden - sort of wake-up or maybe panic attack or something, and they all went and found some way to cast their ballots right before the deadline.

NORRIS: Patty Murray has been in office for several terms. She's quite popular in the state. How did her Republican challenger, Dino Rossi, come so close to winning?

KASTE: It was really about the economy. First and foremost, it was a lot about the fears this year of the ballooning deficit, of federal spending being out of control.

Patty Murray is quite senior in the Senate. She has a powerful post in the Senate Appropriations Committee. And in the past, that served her very well because she's been very good at bringing federal projects home to Washington state. But what Dino Rossi did this year is turn that around and said, she's part of the problem. She is part of the reason that the United States is developing this huge deficit.

And that really got some traction. People really sympathized with that argument. And he made the basic Republican argument this year that what the country needs is less spending and lower taxes, and that really -that had some resonance for a lot of voters in this state, especially outside of the Seattle area.

NORRIS: Just quickly, does she come to Washington talking about perhaps taking a particular message from this election, since it was so close?

KASTE: I think we're still waiting to see what that message is going to be. I think she'll be somewhat chastened here. She's going to speak later this evening, and we'll see - kind of what message she takes from this very, very close result.

NORRIS: Martin, thank you very much.

KASTE: Thank you.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Martin Kaste in Seattle.

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