The Year of the (Republican) Woman

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Congressman John LeBoutillier once described Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill as “just like the federal budget — fat, bloated, and out of control.”

Physiognomy puts the science in pseudoscience when applied to politicians but little else. Our representatives come to represent, in a physical sense, their institutions. Chuck Schumer’s hairline signals Congress’s honesty; Jerry Nadler’s waistline, its gluttony.

Sen. Patty Murray, who won election to the United States Senate in 1992 as “a mom in tennis shoes,” three decades later looks like Edgar Winter dressing up as Captain Kangaroo for Halloween. The face of the cold, sclerotic institution goes before voters in this Washington after marinating for three decades in that other Washington.

Tiffany Smiley, with a name that suits her, transmits in technicolor versus the black-and-white radiating off her opponent. She runs in this race as the mom in tennis shoes. Aged nine when Murray first won in 1992, Smiley highlights by juxtaposition the worn-down-by-Washington incumbent, who has migrated from the Year of the Woman debutante 30 years ago to a part of the old-boys’ network now.

In recent weeks, Northwest institutions, such as Starbucks, issued cease-and-desist orders to Smiley’s campaign for using their imagery. The Seattle Times, which failed to notice Murray’s using its masthead in past campaign ads, suddenly finds it outrageous that Smiley does so, and in the way just about every candidate airing television ads does so — referencing newspaper headlines. The Seattle Seahawks, which honored Smiley’s husband, the nation’s first blind active-duty military officer, as its 12th man a decade ago, bullied her to stop using imagery of this event even though other candidates have appeared in Seahawks gear without raising the team’s ire.

Murray rejected a number of invitations to debate her opponent, a move that nonpartisan organizers called “unprecedented.” As a compromise of sorts, she finally agreed to participate in a single, one-hour debate to take place this Sunday after the state has sent most ballots to its mostly mail-in electorate. It curiously will air right after the Seahawks–Chargers game and in competition with television’s highest-rated program (Sunday Night Football). She also agreed to appear alongside her opponent at a town hall–style meeting on Oct. 30.

“She knows not to debate,” KIRO Newsradio host John Curley told The American Spectator. “You don’t gain anything by debating when you’re ahead like that. I think they were caught flat-footed. They didn’t think that Smiley would be as competitive as she is.”

The Cook Political Report this week shifted Washington from “solid Democrat” to “likely Democrat.” A Trafalgar Group poll showing Murray hanging on to a two-point lead perhaps reoriented opinion. While other surveys from September show Murray enjoying a comfortable lead, the lack of a poll for the past three weeks demonstrates the degree to which pollsters sleep on Washington’s U.S. Senate race.

Can you blame them?

Kari Lake in Arizona, Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas, Tudor Dixon in Michigan, and several other impressive Republican women compete in gubernatorial elections.

Washington last voted Republican for president during Ronald Reagan’s reelection and last sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1994 in Slade Gorton. The state seems only somewhat less left-wing than its short-lived CHAZenclave.

Smiley’s pulling off an upset likely means not only that historians will speak of 2022 alongside 1994, 2014, and other electoral — to borrow a word used byBarack Obama in 2010 — shellackings but that it will go down as the Year of the Republican Woman. Five other Republican women, three of whom look like solid bets to win, run for the Senate. Long-shot Leora Levy, down by just five to Sen. Richard Blumenthal in a shocking new Connecticut Examiner/Fabrizio poll, now possesses an actual shot. Kari Lake in Arizona, Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas, Tudor Dixon in Michigan, and several other impressive Republican women compete in gubernatorial elections. (READ MORE from Daniel J. Flynn: Do Republicans Party Like It’s 1994 on Nov. 8?)

But only a massive wave would enable a political neophyte and Republican to defeat a five-term senator in a deep-blue state. And the wave that brought Tiffany Smiley to victory would already have brought many others there first.

However unlikely the upset, it seems more unlikely that something, or two or three things, that pundits now dismiss as unlikely will not happen on Election Night. And Washington voters know surprises.

In 1994, Speaker of the House Tom Foley, an understudy to Tip O’Neill, who, like him, began to look as though the physical embodiment of the institution, lost his Eastern Washington district via a shocking upset. Like Murray, he had served 30 years in Congress.

Foley looked untouchable until he looked like the wrong Washington. Patty Murray also looks untouchable. But after 30 years in the nation’s capital, she looks like the wrong Washington, too.

Reporting by The American Spectator.