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Murray Quietly Ascends in Leadership Roles

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Patty Murray is quietly moving up the Democratic ranks after having been called on within the past year to head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and to co-chair the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.

More and more often, Sen. Patty Murray seems to be finding herself a victim of her own competence.

Though the Washington state Democrat is still viewed through the “mom in tennis shoes” lens that she developed so successfully on the 1992 campaign trail, she accepted the least-coveted job in Washington, D.C., when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tapped her last year to be the head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in what likely will be an unforgiving cycle. The Nevada Democrat called on her again last month to co-chair the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction — the super
committee tasked with cutting at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.

There’s a reason Reid keeps selecting her for the party’s most difficult positions: Murray is quietly one of the most even-keeled, influential and trusted Members of the Senate. And it’s hard to find anyone, on either side of the aisle, who will dispute that.

“She’s respected by the entire caucus and certainly by Harry; that’s why he chose her to chair this. It reflects what she brings to leadership — which is a lot of energy, usually a down-to-earth approach,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

When approached to describe Murray, fellow lawmakers and top staffers often resort to clichés, from the “mom in tennis shoes” refrain to what Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) calls her focus on the “macaroni-and-cheese issues.” Mikulski contrasted that with the “macro” issues the powerful super committee must address.

Reid’s selection of Murray for the super committee helm last month came with less drama and baggage than other choices. She’s not the face of the party’s messaging operation, like Democratic Policy and Communications Center Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), nor does she have ties to other deficit-reduction groups, like Durbin, who was a member of the “gang of six.”

Sometimes, it even seems like Murray’s role as Senate Democratic Conference secretary — the No. 4 party position — is to adeptly baby-sit others on the leadership team.

“Oftentimes, she’s keeping the three other guys — Reid, Durbin, Schumer — grounded, keeping them on what the ultimate message has to be if they start to stray from it,” one Democratic aide said.

The “mother” analogies underscore Murray’s unassuming public persona in a building filled with characters. “She’s sort of an enigma. You know, she just keeps her head down and does the job at hand,” a Republican leadership source said. But that tack also masks her influence behind the scenes and how she might perform in two extremely difficult and distinct roles.

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