Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during the House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies hearing. (AP Photo / Mariam Zuhaib, File)

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during the House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies hearing. (AP Photo / Mariam Zuhaib, File)

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray on her way to sixth term in Congress

Patty Murray led challenger Tiffany Smiley 58% to 42% as Tuesday night’s results began to roll in.

By David Gutman / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, seeking to win a sixth term that would place her among the longest-serving senators in American history, led Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley 58% to 42%, as Tuesday night’s results began to roll in.

Murray ran up huge margins in King County, the state’s largest county, winning more than 74% of the vote there on Tuesday. That, combined with leads in the state’s next two largest counties, Pierce and Snohomish, easily outpaced Smiley’s dominance in the eastern part of the state.

While Murray never trailed in a single public poll, the race has been highly competitive, with the polling margin narrowing as the election approached. Smiley out-fundraised the longtime incumbent down the stretch, and outside national groups from both parties poured in more than $20 million collectively.

Murray spent more than $20 million and Smiley more than $14 million, the most expensive congressional race in Washington’s history.

With control of the Senate still in doubt Tuesday night, Democrats almost certainly need to hold Murray’s seat to have any chance of maintaining control of the closely split chamber. Hundreds of thousands of votes remain to be counted in the coming days.

The two candidates worked together, briefly, a few years ago to pass legislation to help veterans’ caregivers. Murray, in a speech on the Senate floor, called Smiley an “amazing advocate” for the program, and Smiley, in a since-deleted Facebook post, said Murray’s work was “truly remarkable!”

But the campaign quickly turned negative. The two met twice on the debate stage in recent weeks, with Smiley largely on the attack, and repeatedly reminding voters of Murray’s 30 years in office. Murray has repeatedly warned that putting Republicans in power could lead to a national abortion ban. And Smiley has blamed Murray for rapes, carjackings, murders and overdoses.

A former preschool teacher and one-term state senator, Murray, 72, first won election to the Senate in 1992, campaigning as a “mom in tennis shoes,” an image she has sought to maintain even as she’s become one of the most powerful Democratic legislators in the Capitol.

Republican Tiffany Smiley speaks on Aug. 2, 2022, at a Republican Party event on Election Day in Issaquah. (AP Photo / Ted S. Warren, File)

Republican Tiffany Smiley speaks on Aug. 2, 2022, at a Republican Party event on Election Day in Issaquah. (AP Photo / Ted S. Warren, File)

Murray has, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, campaigned on protecting and codifying abortion rights. She has sought to link Smiley, who says she is “pro-life” but would vote against a federal abortion ban, to national Republicans, particularly former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

She also has highlighted Democratic successes on health care affordability —allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, capping the price of insulin for Medicare enrollees and extending Affordable Care Act subsidies.

Smiley, 41, a Pasco native, has had an uphill battle: No Republican has been elected to the Senate from Washington since Slade Gorton in 1994.

A former nurse and veterans’ advocate, and more recently a public speaker and consultant, Smiley has sold herself as a fresh face for voters tired of the longtime incumbent. Billing herself the “new mom in town,” she has leaned heavily on her personal story — her husband was blinded by a suicide bomber in Iraq and she quit her job to care and advocate for him as he remained in the military.

Her campaign, like those of many Republicans across the country, has focused on crime and inflation, seeking to motivate voters dissatisfied with President Biden and the state of the nation. She’s sought to tie Murray to the defund police movement. Murray never joined calls to cut police funding.

Murray has said her top priorities in a sixth term would be protecting abortion rights, passing legislation to expand access to affordable child care and passing voting rights legislation.

Smiley has said she wants to “rein in” federal spending, but has largely declined to detail the programs she would cut.

In the late stages of the campaign, Murray and other Democrats nationally began to campaign on protecting Medicare and Social Security, warning of possible Republican cuts. Smiley has pledged no benefit cuts for current or near-term retirees, but didn’t rule out future cuts.

Smiley has said she wouldn’t cut Social Security or Medicare benefits for anyone “receiving or about to receive benefits,” but hasn’t ruled out future cuts.

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