Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Perhaps the most interesting Senate race this cycle is between Tiffany Smiley — a rookie candidate — and Patty Murray, a grizzled 30-year Senate veteran who has been unable to put distance between herself and Mrs. Smiley despite Ms. Murray’s considerable advantages in cash and experience.

As a brief introduction, Mrs. Smiley was born and raised on a small farm in central Washington. She got a scholarship to college, became a nurse, and married her high school sweetheart — a champion wrestler in high school who went off to West Point and became an Army officer.

In April 2005, her husband, deployed in Iraq, was wounded and lost his eyesight. After helping her husband recover, Mrs. Smiley went on to help other wounded veterans and worked on reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.

She is fighting, in her words, for “our children’s future, to ensure that the American dream is alive and well for them.”

While Mrs. Smiley has been fighting for her family and for her country, Ms. Murray has been milling about the Senate for 30 years. Her campaign has been devoid of even the pretense of a positive message. Indeed, her initial and most of her subsequent television buys have been negative ads directed at Mrs. Smiley, whom she clearly fears.

She has good reason. Mrs. Smiley has offered an agenda for positive change focused on families, economic growth, and national recovery. The agenda — includes policies that cut across partisan lines — such as term limits, new approaches to combating homelessness, and advancing child tax credits. It is markedly more substantive and better than other commitments Republicans have issued.

She is unsparing in her assessment of the importance of the race: “We’re focusing on issues that face Washington families every single day. Rising crime, cost of living going up, increasing cost of groceries, energy costs that are going up.  And it doesn’t have to be that way.”

“What breaks my heart is that bad policies affect people’s lives.”

Voters are listening. A recent survey of more than a thousand likely voters gave Ms. Murray a 2-point lead (within the margin of error) over Mrs. Smiley. That conforms to much of the private polling done for the campaign.

Despite all of this, the Senate Leadership Fund and other political action committees on the right have hesitated to get involved in the race. That’s a mistake. The difference between winning and losing this race may be as small as a few thousand dollars judiciously applied.

Mrs. Smiley may seem like an underdog. The reality is, however, that this campaign may be among the least challenging things she will have faced and overcome in her life. She’s clear-eyed and confident: “We’re within striking distance, and we’re ready to win this race.”

Finally, Mrs. Smiley realizes that this effort is bigger than her or her family: “In every room I go into, I say, this is for you guys. You believed in me. You shared our message. You’re standing with me shoulder to shoulder.”

In comparison, Ms. Murray, unable to articulate a positive agenda or even defend her 30-year record in the Senate, has tried to make the campaign about Mrs. Smiley, spending millions of dollars on (mostly inaccurate) attack ads.  Concerned about her ability to defend her lengthy tenure in the Senate, Ms. Murray has avoided debates, agreeing to only one and then only after voting has started (ballots are mailed on Oct. 21).

The corporate partners of the Democrats in Washington are doing what they can to help the incumbent. Both Starbucks and the Seattle Seahawks got chippy recently when their logos appeared briefly (on a shirt and in the background) of Mrs. Smiley’s ads. That, too, has exposed the fundamental triviality of the Murray campaign.

Lots of people in politics tell you that they are fighters. Mrs. Smiley doesn’t talk about being a fighter. She doesn’t have to; she has been a fighter every day for the last 17 years.  

That competitive spirit has been passed along to her three sons, ages 15, 13 and 9. The youngest recently told her simply: “You better win.”

Tiffany Smiley says simply: “We’re fighting for the right reasons. And quite frankly, our family will never stop fighting for this country.”

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated Podcast.” He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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