Sen. Patty Murray begins a second term at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in some ways about where she left off.
Record-breaking fundraising, tragedy and Republican electoral gains marked Murray’s first stint as DSCC chairwoman. While much has changed a decade later, the four-term Washington state Democrat believes the 2002 cycle is a cautionary tale for election forecasters.
“When I took on the task the first time around, no one could have predicted all of the dynamic changes over the next two years, or how it would affect people,” Murray told Roll Call in her first newspaper interview since taking control of the DSCC.
“I take that into this cycle. People change, events happen. You can’t predict one election to the next,” she said.
In the 2002 midterms, Republicans won back the Senate, picked up seats in the House and for the first time in 50 years held a majority of state legislative seats. Today, Republicans are again coming off a successful cycle, having won back the House, picked up seats in the Senate and won nearly 700 state legislative seats. And twice as many Democratic Senators are up for re-election in 2012 as Republicans.
Back then, Murray’s task was to defeat Senators who were bolstered by a popular Republican president. Campaign finance laws allowed parties to take unlimited donations, which translated to $50,000 checks from Silicon Valley technology executives and Microsoft moguls. YouTube was years from existence and the idea of a news story coming at the speed of a tweet might have seemed laughable.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recruited Murray back to the job for the 2012 cycle because of the challenging landscape, when few others were up to the task. Murray is coming off a tough re-election of her own and wants to make sure her Democratic colleagues make it back as well.
“I really believe that the policies we are working hard on are right for the American people,” Murray said. “It’s important we have people in the Senate who will do the work to make that happen.”
Democratic consultant Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, who ran the DSCC’s communications team along with Robert Gibbs in the 2002 cycle, said Murray is the right person for the job.
“Press calls, candidate meetings, political meetings — it’s just a ton of hours,” Ravitz-Meehan said. “But she’s very good at managing it all.”
Murray did it before amid one of the more volatile political atmospheres following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By Election Day 2002, President George W. Bush’s approval rating hadn’t been below 60 percent since Sept. 10, 2001.
The popular Bush spent a considerable amount of time on the trail campaigning and raising money for Republicans, including five trips to South Dakota alone for then-Rep. John Thune, whom Bush recruited to the race. Thune lost to Sen. Tim Johnson (D) by just more than 500 votes, though Johnson notably ran an ad touting his own support for Bush.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.