At one point in her career as a lobbyist for environmental and educational issues, someone (probably a dude) told Patty Murray that she couldn’t make a difference because she was a “mom in tennis shoes.” She carried that meme through multiple elections, including the 1992 U.S. Senate election in Washington, which she ran only a year after entering the State Senate. She’s been in D.C. ever since, and is currently the 16th-most-senior Senator. She’s had an up-and-down Senate career — I don’t live in Washington state and never have, so I’m not sure of all the local views on here, but it appears they’re mixed (just as they’re mixed for any politician) — and is now one of the two main faces of the new budget deal, with former VP candidate Paul Ryan. She’s calling it “a compromise with smarter cuts.”
Back in 2002, and then again in summer 2011, major publications made the argument that she emerged from the “mom in tennis shoes” meme to become one of the most influential Democrats in Washington (the city, that is). This piece from earlier this year, which may be one of the deepest dives ever written on Murray, opens with this backhanded compliment:
Patty Murray may be the dullest, most unremarkable member of the United States Senate. Two decades in, she lacks any major legislation to her name, isn’t associated with an issue, rarely appears on television, almost always speaks in gray generalities, and seems to have spent the bulk of her time focused on sending earmarks back to Washington state. As one staffer puts it, the most interesting thing about Murray is how uninteresting she is. She’s also the most important politician you’ve never heard of.
As of 2012, The National Journal was giving her a “composite liberal score” of 88.7, making her the fourth-most liberal Senator behind Udall, Durbin and Franken. Here’s her full voting summary. Washington hasn’t gone red in a Presidential election since 1984, and Murray’s first two defenses of her Senate seat (’98 and ’04) were by comfortable margins. Her victory in ’10 was a bit closer, but she still captured close to 53 percent of the popular vote.
Murray is now considered a favorite of Democratic Senate leadership, in part because of her work with the DSCC. She helped convince Elizabeth Warren and Heidi Heitkamp to run for Senate; both won. She engineered a two-seat pickup in a time when Obama (as the face of the ticket) was fading. That’s impressive; she also had to work on the supercommittee to figure out how to slash $1.2 trillion in the face of no budget agreement. Those two “assignments from hell,” once delivered, helped her ascension.
I was just starting to get into politics around the time of Murray’s first Senate run (’92). I remember thinking the narrative was pretty cool, because we were learning at the time (in probably fifth grade) that anyone could run for anything in America and have a shot. (I now understand this to be less true.) The two main races I remember thinking were interesting as a kid were Murray (who won) and Victor Morales in ’96 vs. Phil Gramm (who lost). Interestingly, Ted Cruz had kind of a similar media narrative to Morales (from the other side of the aisle) although in reality, he was long considered a rising star in Texas (i.e. he wasn’t an upstart). Also should be noted: someone uploading a video of Murray vs. Cruz on the Senator floor has deemed her “a liberal airhead.”
(That same video aims to arrest “radical Marxist Marco Rubio” in its About section.)
This new deal Murray worked on — probably her most high-profile legislation of possibly her entire series of terms — may be screwing the long-term unemployed, could be re-establishing trust between the American people and their government, does not have a fan in Rand Paul, and is ostensibly like every other budget deal: some like, some hate, most grouse. It really depends where you fall ideologically, I ‘spose.
I also think her rise up through the Senate is tremendous. This is a woman who was once essentially groped by Strom Thurmond in a Capitol elevator — and aside from her campaign mantra, that’s the main thing a lot of people knew about her. Now she’s busting ass and taking names in the Senate (or hell, that’s how it appears to me). She’s a good example of what you can do when you put in your time, build your relationships, and wait for your shots. I’m liberal as all hell, but even if I wasn’t, I could see myself voting for her if I lived in Washington.