‘Hard to tell’: GOP wants to believe Smiley can win in suddenly competitive Washington Senate race

WENATCHEE, Washington — Republican voters here have been disappointed before.

As Tiffany Smiley barnstormed across eastern Washington state (the red part of Washington state) in the final hours before Election Day, Republican voters flocked to see the brash Republican campaigning to unseat Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) were quietly crossing their fingers. They want to believe but know as well as any Washingtonian how much the Democratic voters west of the Wenatchee Mountains dominate their state’s politics.

Not since 1994 has a red electoral wave, like the kind building across the nation ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, crashed in deep-blue Washington state. Incidentally, that was the last time this state sent a Republican to the Senate (Slade Gorton, who was promptly ousted six years later).

“You feel like your vote does not matter,” said Chelsea Mahuika, 40, a married mother of six who was a classmate of Smiley’s in Pasco, Washington, where both were raised and the candidate continues to reside. Mahuika, who now lives in Wenatchee, in central Washington state, was among the few hundred who showed up here to see Smiley as her bus tour across the state rolled through town.

Smiley has made a hopeful believer out of Mahuika. But her initial skepticism explains the psychology of Republican voters in the eastern half of Washington state. “When the primaries happened — I looked at the Republican candidates, I looked where Tiffany was at and where Patty Murray was at, and I’m like, ‘I’m so proud of Tiffany, I’m so happy for her, but I don’t know how she’s going to pull this off.’”


It was like that in Spokane Valley, Washington, just outside of Spokane, the state’s population center near the Idaho border. “It’s hard to tell,” Mark Porter, 67, a retired police officer, said when asked if he thinks Smiley can win. “There’s a lot more people on the west side [of the state] than here.”

And it was like that in Ritzville, Washington, a small rural community about an hour southwest of Spokane.

“Eastern Washington is going to be very important in this vote. If we have a positive turnout in eastern Washington, then we could push her over the top. If we don’t, then I’m not sure,” said Mike Kline, 71.

In other words, unless Smiley can squeeze every last Republican vote out of friendly territory, Republicans who do vote will be outnumbered by those whom Kline referred to as “Space Needle people,” his term for Democratic voters who predominate in, and adjacent to, Seattle and Tacoma and a reference to Seattle’s iconic, downtown high-rise landmark of the same name.

Examine an electoral map of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Washington state, and it’s plain to see. President Joe Biden won just 13 of the state’s 39 counties. That was good enough to defeat former President Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points. To defeat Murray, 72, seeking her sixth term, Smiley is going to have to repaint that map, which is representative of the political divide playing out in many states.

None of this is lost on Smiley. At every campaign stop across eastern Washington, whether talking to groups of a few dozen or a few hundred, Smiley thanked the crowd for their support but made it crystal clear that their backing would not be enough, given the political challenge she faces, even in a particularly favorable political environment for Republicans that may net them House and Senate majorities in the midterm elections.

Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley (R-WA) is seen campaigning in Washington state. She faces Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in the 2022 midterm elections.

(David Drucker / Washington Examiner)

“I’m in a neck-and-neck race with Sen. Murray,” Smiley said in Wenatchee Thursday evening as she delivered her stump speech to a couple of hundred supporters who packed a “grange,” or meeting hall, to see her close up “Every single vote counts, every single one. This is our chance, Washington — Wenatchee.”

“But I need you,” Smiley emphasized. “You cannot just go vote by yourself this time. You’ve got to talk to 10, 20, 30 people — 50, 100, if you’re really ambitious. I need you to share the message. Vote Tiffany Smiley, vote Smiley. Whatever.”

Murray has not been pushed this hard politically since 2010, another Republican wave year. She survived that contest, winning 52.1% of the vote over heralded Republican recruit Dino Rossi. Murray appears to recognize the threat Smiley poses. She also recognizes the political math.

If Democrats in the blue counties turn out in big numbers, the senator will be difficult to beat, even if the Democrats get thumped elsewhere in the United States. So, Murray is spending the final days of the campaign headlining events at Democratic Party field offices, rallying the grassroots volunteers and paid field staff who are knocking on doors, manning phone banks, and texting Democratic voters to make sure they drop their ballots in the mail.


Washington conducts its election almost strictly via mail-in ballots, and so far, Murray likes what she sees from the returns and her troops in the field. But the senator stressed to supporters at a party field office in Lakewood, Washington, on Friday afternoon that the race is close and that maximizing the vote from Democratic partisans is imperative.

“People get why this is so important,” Murray told the Washington Examiner in a subsequent interview. “I have seen an incredible amount of energy.”

Lakewood is a suburban community of roughly 63,000 just south of Tacoma, in Pierce County, blue territory that voted for Biden over Trump by more than 11 points two years ago.