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Democrats rally behind their 'mom in tennis shoes,' Sen. Patty Murray

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington is facing a strong challenge from GOP candidate Dino Rossi. Top Democrats from Michelle Obama to former President Bill Clinton have vowed to help.

By Staff writer / September 29, 2010

President Obama and Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington take part in a roundtable discussion with small business owners at Grand Central Bakery in Seattle on Aug. 17.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/file

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Sen. Patty Murray knows what an uphill fight is like. Running for her local school board years ago, the Washington State Democrat adopted the jibe of a political opponent: “Just a mom in tennis shoes.”

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Sen. Murray parlayed that local post into success in the state Senate and then three terms in the US Senate – she won her last reelection by a very comfortable 12 percentage points – and her fourth-ranking position among the Senate’s Democratic leadership.

But today, Murray – five feet tall in those tennis shoes – is running hard against tough GOP opponent Dino Rossi in a region of the country where moderate Republicans have done very well in the past.

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The race is too close to call. And at a time when the "tea party" movement is upsetting the conventional political apple cart for both parties, Mr. Rossi easily beat the tea party favorite – former pro football player Clint Didier, who won just 13 percent of the vote in Washington State’s “jungle primary” in which candidates from all parties run against each other but only the top two are on the November ballot.

Rossi is a realtor, former state senator, and twice-failed candidate for governor. But he is well-known statewide. In 2004, he lost the governor’s race to Democrat Christine Gregoire by just 133 votes after two recounts.

Rossi charges that “record deficits, high unemployment, and massive debt are the result of Senator Murray’s 18 years in Washington.” He’s also been hammering Murray for bringing special help to the state through earmarks. She was No. 12 on the top 20 list of earmarkers, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Murray, who is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, doesn’t apologize for the hundreds of millions of dollars she’s helped bring to Washington State over the years.

"You go back to Washington, D.C., with 99 other senators and convince them what's important for your state," she told McClatchy Newspapers recently. That may, in fact, be one reason why she’s enjoyed relatively high favorability ratings among constituents.

Just two weeks ago, Murray was leading Rossi by 9 percentage points in a CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation survey. Like many states, the Democrat was leading in urban areas – particularly around Seattle – while Rossi led in the rest of the state.

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