By Curt Woodward Associated Press
SEATTLE — With voters preparing to mark their mail-in ballots, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi squared off Sunday in their second and final debate.
Murray, an 18-year incumbent, is seeking a fourth term. Rossi is making his third run for statewide office after unsuccessful campaigns for governor in 2004 and 2008. Public polls show a competitive race in a contest that could determine which party controls the Senate.
Ballots were sent to voters this week in Washington’s almost entirely vote-by-mail election.
Rossi is hoping to tap into voter discontent about the stagnant economy. He has consistently criticized Murray’s support of the roughly $800 billion federal stimulus, corporate bailouts and health care overhaul, among other national Democratic policies.
“We’re witnessing the fundamental redefinition of America, and we can’t let that happen,” Rossi said Sunday.
Murray has not run away from her considerable clout in Washington, D.C., highlighting the federal dollars she has secured for projects in all corners of the state. She also has laid blame on Wall Street for the country’s economic collapse.
“I will take on anyone, even the most powerful, to make sure you have a seat at the table,” Murray said.
The two sparred over the federal stimulus plan’s effect on the economy. Rossi pointed to the state’s high unemployment rate and said the better approach would be to spur the private sector to create jobs.
“Temporary government jobs are created by the federal government,” Rossi said. “They actually have to take money away from the private sector to create those temporary government jobs.”
Murray said private contractors are carrying out plenty of stimulus work, including projects to unsnarl traffic jams in King County. “Mr. Rossi’s going to give them a pink slip,” she said.
Allowed to ask Rossi a question, Murray wanted to know how he would pay for renewing federal tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Congress hasn’t yet extended those cuts, which date to the George W. Bush administration. Democratic leaders have wanted to give relief to lower tax brackets only, while Republicans want the cuts extended for all taxpayers.
Rossi didn’t directly answer the question, saying instead that Murray should have ensured the Senate extended the tax cuts before Congress’ recent adjournment.
“The bottom line is, Sen. Murray is going to continue to raise your taxes,” he said.
Rossi’s question accused Murray of helping to spark a trade war with Mexico, which has raised tariffs on U.S. goods after the cancellation of a pilot program allowing some Mexican trucks to transport goods into the U.S.
Murray replied that she had fought the tariffs in question, but said the trucking policy was primarily about safety and shouldn’t have brought any negative consequences for Washington farmers.
“The Mexican government has decided to punish our farmers through no fault of their own,” Murray said.
National Democrats are taking the campaign seriously, with Murray planning campaign visits from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama this month.
Supporters of both candidates packed a Seattle street corner before the debate, waving signs outside the studios of KOMO-TV.