Which way in Washington? Part Two

On Tuesday, political observers received a preview of one of the most closely watched Senate contests of the 2010 season – the Washington Senate race between incumbent Democrat Patty Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi. Because of the way Washington operates its primaries, Murray and Rossi ran essentially head-to-head, along with a bunch of other Republicans, most notably Tea Party favorite Clint Didier.
With all the votes counted (I think), Murray has collected 46 percent to Rossi’s 33 percent. Didier was a distant third with around 12 percent.
If you compare the vote for all Republicans and all Democrats on the ballot, the Republicans come out ahead 49 to 48 percent. But Murray essentially cornered the Democratic vote. Meanwhile, Rossi cannot necessarily count of all of Didier’s support Didier himself has reservations about the Republican nominee. Calling on his football background, he says:

“I’m gonna try to coach Dino up a bit on how to get my followers…I’ve got to see more fire in the belly. I’ve got to see more conviction…If he wants the people who voted for me to vote for him, he better be willing to come my way.”

Unfortunately, if Didier coaches Rossi up with his followers, he may coach him down when it comes to independents.
So how should we see this race? As I suggested on Tuesday, the best lens at this point might be a PPP poll from August 3 that surveyed both the primary and a one-on-one contest between Murray and Rossi. Because the PPP primary survey came very close to predicting the final outcome, its polling of a Murray-Rossi race should also be considered a reliable indicator of how things stand now.
PPP found Murray leading Rossi 49 to 46, with a margin of error of 2.8 percent. Murray’s approval rating was even more evenly divided, with 46 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving. But Liz Mair points to a Survey USA poll that has Murray’s rating “upside down” at 41-54. That result seems a bit inconsistent with Tuesday’s vote, but it still should worry Murray.
All-in-all, this race looks like essentially a toss-up that likely will be determined by whether Rossi can hold independents and still inspire and win Tea Party voters, and by whether the economy continues its apparent turn sideways or south.

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