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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.

Though she is less of a partisan lightning rod atop the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee than Schumer was in previous cycles, Republicans were quick to attack her position as essentially the party’s top fundraiser as a conflict in leading the deficit panel. That criticism has mostly died down, however.

“She has two very important but very different responsibilities, and she understands that they’re responsibilities of very different kinds,” said fellow super committee member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a former campaign chief himself. “Patty Murray is clearly someone you want to hand the ball to when you want to get something done.”

Some have suggested Murray’s value in leadership derives partly from her gender, and sources say it certainly didn’t impede Reid’s super committee picks, especially when leaders faced criticism last spring that not a single woman was selected to serve in debt talks with Vice President Joseph Biden.

“Reid really wanted to choose a woman,” said an aide familiar with the Majority Leader’s thinking. “But he also needed someone he trusted to be his info pipeline — and I think [others on the panel] would take opportunities to freelance at will, but Patty would not keep Reid in the dark in an attempt to not spoil it.”

But for those who think her gender was the tipping point for Reid, others point to the fact that she is one of the most senior Democrats on both the Budget and Appropriations committees. Indeed, Reid has tapped her for other thankless tasks, such as when ailing Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) in 2007 and 2008 was unable to perform the duties of shepherding spending bills on the Senate floor. Murray became the de facto floor manager for many appropriations bills at that time.

Multiple Democratic leadership sources pointed to last spring’s debate over the continuing resolution and the last-minute stand Democrats took against House Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood as one of Murray’s most significant contributions to the party’s messaging efforts.

In the final 48 hours before government shutdown, Murray managed the debate, delivering floor speeches and holding a press conference with the Senate’s Democratic women.

But her dual roles this year also come with risks. When Murray last ran the DSCC in 2002, Democrats lost the majority, and the party is in danger of a repeat next year. Similarly, Democrats and Republicans have been privately skeptical that the members of deficit panel will be able to reach an agreement by their Nov. 23 deadline. Murray’s fellow co-chairman is conservative firebrand Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), and the committee is filled with leadership loyalists on both sides.

But if she succeeds in leading the bipartisan, bicameral group to a deal and minimizes damage in the 2012 elections, Murray could position herself quite nicely for what comes next in a town that has a long memory.

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