Tonight’s debate between incumbent Sen. Patty Murray (D) and Republican Dino Rossi highlighted the difference between the candidates on a broad range of policies such as Afghanistan, Social Security, Healthcare reform, tax cuts, DADT, student loans, immigration, as well as each candidate’s general approach to the role of government.
Murray was every bit the overconfident incumbent, at times dismissive of her opponent, beginning almost every one of her rebuttals with some form of: “Well Mr. Rossi didn’t really answer the question, but…” Whenever she spoke, Murray stared directly into the camera as if recording some kind of public service announcement, and looked like she was on “political autopilot.” Very robotic. It will be interesting see if voters are turned off by that, and if one of Rossi’s attempts to cast her as an out of touch incumbent, including his go to tagline: “She’s saying one thing in Washington state, doing another thing in Washington D.C., which one does she represent?” are having an effect. Rossi, on the hand, spoke like a normal human being.
Murray spent the evening defending her record in Congress, while at the same time making vague promises to “solve problems,” in most cases the very same problems her legislation was intended to address. On healthcare reform, for instance, she took complete ownership of the bill, saying: “Not only did I read it, I helped to write it.” (We’ll see if this soundbite comes back to haunt her). Either way, you had to wonder which healthcare bill see was referring to, because she went on to say: “I believe that you should be able to pick a plan and choose your doctor (!), control costs and increase access (!)…” – a softball Rossi teed off on in his rebuttal.
Murray’s answers were littered with personal stories – the cancer patient who can’t get insurance, the gay student who can’t serve in the Army, etc. – she had one or two for every issue (political autopilot), very reminiscent of the 2008 campaign, especially on healthcare. Rossi spoke often, and convincingly, about his own accomplishments, specifically his time in the state senate as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, where he was in charge of drafting the state budget.
On economic issues, Rossi was intelligent and informed, whereas Murray was intent to promise everything, while saying nothing. On job creation, she said it was her duty to listen small to businesses, then go to Washington and bring back “investments.” Given what we have recently found out about Murray’s cozy relationship with lobbyist organization, we know what that means – earmarks. And when Rossi spoke straightforwardly about how economic uncertainly over healthcare and tax cuts was harmful to job creation, Murray retorted: “I didn’t hear any jobs created in that answer.” Murray’s response to a question about what to do with Social Security was typically wishy-washy – saying in one breath that “making sure social security is never privatized is crucially important,” and in another that “everything is on the table, every area of the budget,” and “we have to make very tough decisions.”
Overall, Rossi was pretty effective in portraying Murray as “an 18 year incumbent desperate for 6 more years,” and as someone corrupted by the political culture in Washington. When Citizens United came up, and Murray went after him for not supporting the Disclose Act, Rossi cooly rebutted that if Sen. Murray was interested in full disclosure, perhaps she could explain her hefty contributions from big banks and insurance companies following her bailout and Obamacare votes. Asked how they would bridge the partisan divide in Washington, Rossi gave a detailed account of how he had done so in the state government, while slamming the partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill. The best Murray could manage was a prediction that maybe when Congress returns they can achieve a bipartisan compromise to extend the Bush tax cuts (but not for all).
Washingtonians have a clear choice. If they are satisfied with where the country is headed and with the policies of this Congress and administration, why get rid of Patty Murray? If not, Dino Rossi proved tonight that he is offering a compelling change of course.