Washington Sen. Patty Murray said today that she feels better about the Senate landscape than when she took the job as chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee one year ago.
“It’s night and day,” said Murray, who agreed to a second stint at the committee during a difficult cycle when no other Senator would do it. She first led the DSCC during the 2002 election cycle.
One reason for Murray’s newfound optimism is the candidates who stepped forward following a strong cycle for Republicans and with Democrats defending 23 seats compared with the Republicans’ 10. At a pen-and-pad briefing highlighting five female candidates, Murray didn’t shy away from wading into primaries when needed, a risky proposition in recent years.
“Look, when I find the right candidate, whoever it is, I want to get behind him and help them get here,” she said.
Murray endorsed Rep. Mazie Hirono over former Rep. Ed Case in the open seat race in Hawaii and made it clear the DSCC will stand behind Rep. Christopher Murphy in his primary for the open seat in Connecticut.
“I’m supporting Mazie, and I believe she is going to win,” Murray said.
Murray is backing Murphy over former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, who if nominated would give Democrats a sixth non-incumbent female nominee. “When we go out and talk to people in states, we look at who is the strongest candidate, who can win, who has the kind of support” that is needed, Murray said. In Connecticut, “Chris Murphy is just a great candidate, and I expect him to win.”
Murray stopped short of endorsing New Mexico Rep. Martin Heinrich, who faces a challenging primary against state Auditor Hector Balderas, a young Latino statewide elected official in a state where both parties are targeting Latino voters in the presidential race.
“Well, as you know, we recruited Rep. Heinrich,” Murray said. “He’s doing a great job. We have not endorsed in that race, but I think he’s doing really great and I look forward to supporting him.”
Republicans have a primary in New Mexico as well, and Murray seemed to use that state as an example of the differences in the parties’ primaries nationwide.
“The reason they have primaries is they have the tea party candidates who are challenging their Republican mainstream candidates, and that’s a real issue for them,” Murray said.
“What I’ve really done is gone out to the states, talked to people, looked for the kinds of people who had great stories to tell, who understood their communities, who would be great Senators who know how to build organizations,” she added. “And I’m so pleased that so many of them have said yes to running.”
When asked why she picked Hirono over Case, Murray said Hirono “really strikes a chord with me” and “understands what people are going through.”
Hirono was present for the opening of the briefing along with Reps. Shelley Berkley (Nev.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.). The other two female recruits Murray highlighted, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, were not there.
“So that’s why I’m so bullish on 2012,” Murray said. “We’ve recruited great candidates at a time when our country is really hurting, and people are looking for people who are talking about the issues that mean something to them.”
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh responded to the event with a taunt.
“Democrats lost seven Senate seats last cycle, and independent voters by wide margins, because their message and their candidates were to the far left of most voters in their states,” Walsh said in a statement. “So whether it’s in Wisconsin, Nevada, North Dakota, or elsewhere, it’s remarkable to watch history already begin to repeat itself.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.