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The future majority leader?

carlson CHRIS


Pardon the crystal ball gazing, but by next January Washington state’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, will become the next majority leader of the Senate, succeeding the acerbic Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

Most pundits will say this is two years premature, that Reid intends to be Majority (or Minority) Leader through 2016. That may well be in fact what happens. The dynamics of the 2014 mid-term elections, however, will change that and history will tap Senator Murray.

She will be the first female to hold that position, but then she has constantly surprised friends and befuddled critics since the Mom in Tennis Shoes first jumped from the Washington State Senate to the United States Senate.

First, full disclosure – I go back with the Senator to the very beginning when she declared against the ethically challenged incumbent Senator Brock Adams in the 1992 Democratic primary.

The Seattle P-I assigned a reporter to do a profile before the primary and thus it was I took a call and was asked why I was supporting her. Because of my long association with Cecil Andrus, and my subsequent work with Kaiser Aluminum as the v p for government affairs some in the media at least thought my support was noteworthy.

My response became the lead: “Patty Murray is the right person, in the right place at the right time with the right message and she’s going to win.” Over a dozen lobbyists and government affairs types called to ask me if I’d lost my marbles.

Besides being smart, and having the courage of her convictions, Senator Murray is a tenacious campaigner, and one who opponents and critics constantly underestimate. Their bodies are strewn across the political landscape.

Consider: she is one of only two members of the Senate ever to defeat four sitting members of Congress – in her 1992 primary she defeated Congressmen Don Bonker; in the general she defeated Congressman Rod Chandler . In 1998, she defeated Congresswoman Linda Smith, and in 2004 Congressman George Nethercutt.

One could make that five if you counted former congressman and senator, Brock Adams.

Senator Murray has many assets but one not often cited is the obvious capacity to grow into the various roles she has had to play, from chair of the Veterans Committee to twice running the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Today, with the seniority she has accumulated she is chair of the Budget committee and sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee as well as retaining her seat on Veterans Affairs.

She is also a member of the Senate Democratic leadership along with New York Senator Charles Schumer who will probably be her primary competitor once Reid announces he is stepping down. Let me be clear—Senator Murray will be called by the time and circumstances to ascend to a razor thin Majority leadership. She will not lead a coup against Senator Reid nor step over the body of Senator Schumer. Neither move is in her nature.

The caucus will turn to her because once again she will be the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message.

Senator Murray is a proven consensus builder. Exhibit A is the sterling work she and her staff (She has always had outstanding staff) displayed in working with Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan to achieve a bi-partisan Budget agreement between the House and Senate.

This ability to smooth troubled waters will be of critical importance for the simple reason that if the Democrats hold onto the Senate leadership it may only be by a one vote margin. The party that wins control could come down to Alaska Senator Mark Begich’s race the results of which may not be known for several days.

Party leadership, though, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, will recognize that to achieve any legislative success going into the 2016 presidential race will require a different style in the Majority Leader’s office and someone whom the Republicans can trust and respect. That’s Patty Murray, not Harry Reid or Charles Schumer.

Senator Murray’s ability to rally women behind Democratic candidates is well proven and thus she will also garner credit for the Democrats continuing to hold the Senate.

Another commendable attribute: she always remembers those that help her. She called just the other day to ask how I was doing with my health challenges and faring in retirement. We had a nice 10 minute chat.

And during my several hospitalizations while being treated for my cancer at Huntsman in Salt Lake City in 2006 invariably I’d get a hand-written note of encouragement from her. She’s going to be a great Majority Leader. You just watch. She’s the real deal in the surreal world inside the Beltway.

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