Earlier this month, the Seattle Times reported that at least 17 of Murray’s former staff members have gone on to work at lobbying firms. The clients of those former staffers are expected to benefit from nearly $20 million in earmarks Murray requested for the 2011 defense-spending bill. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that Murray is the second-highest recipient of campaign contributions from lobbyists. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, she has received more than $660,000 in lobbyist money since 2005.
The list goes on. But whether the “Queen of Pork” label will stick (at least in the negative sense) is another question.
Americans are somewhat divided on the issue of pork-barrel spending. An October 15 Rasmussen survey found that 60 percent of likely voters prefer a candidate who would cut federal spending to one who would work to secure earmarks for their state or district — 84 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of independents. However, 56 percent of Democrats favored candidates who bring home the bacon.
That’s good news for Murray in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican governor or presidential candidates in almost 30 years. “It’s such a deep-blue state, and the recession, unemployment hasn’t hit us as hard as the rest of the country,” says a source familiar with Washington State politics. “Their liberalism hasn’t come back to bite them as much.”
Matt A. Barreto, professor of political science at the University of Washington and director of the Washington Poll, said Murray has done a good job spinning the issue in her favor by highlighting specific state projects she helped fund. “It’s always the case that people are against earmarks in the 49 states that are not their own,” Barreto said.
Polling in the race is difficult to judge. The RealClearPolitics average has Murray leading by several points, but because most voting in the state is done by mail, it is fairly difficult to determine who exactly constitutes a “likely voter.” A recent GOP survey found that 50 percent of “most likely” voters preferred Rossi, compared to 45 percent for Murray.
Both parties, as well as outside interest groups, are pouring resources into the state, as the seat appears increasingly vital to Republican hopes of a Senate majority in 2011. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has pledged $4 million in support of Rossi. Democrats, meanwhile, have reserved $2 million in air time and are rolling out their biggest names — Clinton, Biden, the Obamas — on Murray’s behalf, an indication to some that Democrats are nervous. “If Murray were safe, they wouldn’t be here,” the state source said. “This race is closer than people think.”
For Republicans, who already seem poised to win the seat of “Earmarker-in-Chief” David Obey (D., Wis.), the outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, knocking off the “Queen of Pork” would be an important victory.
— Andrew Stiles writes for National Review Online’s Battle ’10 blog.