Some strange things have been happening here in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve had a freakishly warm and dry October, for one, and just the other day Seattle apparently boasted the worst air pollution in the world. That was thanks to the smog from all the nearby wildfires, though I’m pleased to report that more normal monsoon conditions have since returned.
Elton John was in town for the fifth or sixth time as part of his interminable farewell tour, and in an unrelated development, hundreds of young people, many sporting wigs and dressed in their underwear — if even that — took to the streets to illustrate their role in the city’s annual LGBTQ+ zombie-apocalypse Halloween rave. To cap it off, the gloriously feckless Seattle Mariners somehow managed to break baseball’s longest postseason drought, and graced the MLB playoffs for the first time since the end of the Clinton presidency.
But surely none of these oddities could compete with the news that Washington’s five-term Democratic senator Patty Murray, 72, is in trouble against her 39-year-old GOP opponent, a self-described farm girl with the striking name of Tiffany Smiley. Smiley is a political outsider whose husband Scotty was blinded by a suicide bomber while serving as a US Army major in Iraq. Long considered a lock for Murray, the seat is now a statistical toss-up, with a new Trafalgar Group poll showing Murray up 49-48.
The rival candidates sat down (or in Smiley’s case, stood up) for a televised debate the other day. If ever there was a living portrait of the gulf between America’s two main parties, this was it. Murray spoke a good deal about the Republicans wanting to take away people’s rights to vote and to abort their babies, just for starters, while in the longer term we’re apparently all going to choke or fry to death because of climate change. Smiley wondered about her opponent’s legislative priorities. “Last time I checked, 87,000 new IRS agents do not affect the weather,” she said. “We need to work locally with our people here in Washington state to manage our forests.”
Then, of course, there’s the troubling matter of our democracy being in crisis and at risk of failing, as witnessed by the events of January 6, 2021. To hear Murray describe it, the incident was like 9/11, Pearl Harbor and the Civil War rolled into one. She was right there, too, as she frequently reminds us. “I heard noises,” Murray harrowingly told PBS NewsHour. “People were in the hallway outside my door… I was inches away, along with my husband. And we were really frightened. We were lying on the floor, and people were in the hall. They were marching and yelling.”
There’s always a tone of calamity in Murray’s voice. She’s the one pluckily pressing her shoulder to a door being battered by the maniacs on the other side, with their Viking helmets and shocking tendency to vote for political candidates not backed by George Soros. We’re lucky to have her. How one admires the rich qualities of our veteran senator’s life, characterized as it is by selfless devotion, raw courage and boundless generosity — particularly as displayed to those daily seeking admission at our nation’s southern border. Like the late Queen, she will be a hard act to follow.
Looked at on a map, Washington state is an electoral microcosm of the nation. There are the pristinely liberal bits on either end — Seattle in the west and the college town of Spokane to the east — and great tracts of farmland in the middle filled with poor, ill-educated hicks susceptible to tent-revivalists, snake-handlers and Republicans. If only they could display half the learning and sophistication of Senator Murray.
As if to press the point, no less than Kamala Harris came to town the other day to remind us that “American democracy is extremely fragile… It will only be as strong as our willingness to fight for it. And so, fight we will. And when we fight, we win. And…” — their hands now held triumphantly aloft — “…that’s my friend Patty Murray! The next senator from the great state of Washington! Let’s continue her leadership!”
The veep and her friend the senator then drove down to the Seattle Seahawks football field to talk about the exciting prospect of our state purchasing a fleet of more fuel-efficient school buses, surely a good bet with the price of gas being what it is these days. Yet in their motorcade, I counted a total of 23 Cadillacs, a squadron of motorbikes, and a couple of heavy-duty SUVs with aerials on top.
And how about those Seahawks? Apparently they’re onboard with Murray too. A few weeks ago, Smiley went live with a campaign ad called “Game Day” in which her wounded husband is seen back in the couple’s home remarking that “even beer” prices are rising. Across the room, a TV appears to be showing a football game where with military-grade binoculars you might be able to make out one or two letters of the word “Seahawks” on a player’s jersey. The team immediately sent an aggressive cease-and-desist order, shutting down the ad. Oddly enough, this is the same NFL franchise that once hailed Major Smiley as a hero, and invited him down to the stadium to raise the No. 12 flag before a big game.
Most Washingtonians I know are primarily interested in two issues this election cycle: lawlessness and inflation. For thirty years, Patty Murray has been tough only on the victims of crime. There are more of them than ever before. She’s had nothing to say about rising prices, beyond blaming Vladimir Putin for our collective agony at the gas pump. The incumbent senator will have her work cut out to be reelected on November 8, although her relentless scaremongering and voter apathy may yet shove her across the finish line. Personally, I shall await the end of the need to ever watch Murray’s anguished face or listen to her tremulous voice.