Nethercutt, Murray Take Their Whacks

Posted March 22, 2004 at 5:16pm

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has gone on the attack against her presumed Senate opponent, Rep. George Nethercutt (R), accusing him of duplicity on the military preparedness issue.

“George Nethercutt changes his tune on military readiness,” a recent Murray news release was headlined.

Nethercutt had castigated Murray in February when she penned a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking whether Washington state soldiers were being sent to Iraq without all the necessary supplies and equipment.

“Next time, I hope Senator Murray will wait to get the facts straight before she issues a press release and makes inflammatory statements,” Nethercutt said in his own news release last month.

Then last week, Nethercutt was quoted in the Spokane Spokesman-Review as telling a Defense Appropriations panel: “Soldiers deploying to Iraq shouldn’t have the additional burden of purchasing boots and socks and reliable [global positioning systems] receivers and so forth.”

To Murray’s campaign team, that sounded suspiciously like what the Senator herself had said earlier.

“Last month, George Nethercutt personally attacked Patty Murray when she stood up for Washington’s armed service members … now, Representative Nethercutt has changed his tune, acknowledging what Senator Murray has known all along — we need to do a better job of protecting … our troops,” Murray campaign manager Carol Albert said in a statement.

Nethercutt’s camp maintains that the Congressman has remained steadfast.

He has been monitoring the situation but did not agree with the manner in which Murray raised her concerns, Alex Conant, Nethercutt’s campaign spokesman, said.

Murray should have gone to the Pentagon directly instead of issuing a news release, he said.

“We were criticizing her because she was trying to score some cheap political points with the issue,” Conant said. “Of course the Congressmen is concerned that they have all the supplies they need.”

Murray’s Senate spokeswoman, Alex Glass, said that Murray was not satisfied with two letters she received from the Pentagon in response to her query, which said the agency was “reviewing” the matter, making no guarantees her concerns would be addressed.

“George Nethercutt’s first reaction to almost any issue is to back the Bush administration’s position, no matter what it means for the state of Washington,” Albert continued in her statement. “George Nethercutt will say just about anything to make news and further his political ambition — even when he knows he’s wrong.”

Conant countered: “George Nethercutt is proud to try to work with the president and the administration to make sure the troops serving abroad have what they need to fight the war on terror.

“I think [Murray] has a huge credibility problem on national security issues,” he continued. “This is the same Senator who after 9/11 was praising Osama bin Laden for building day care centers in Afghanistan.”

Murray has taken a lot of guff from the GOP for comments made during an appearance before Vancouver high schoolers more than a year ago.

Murray noted that Osama bin Laden curried favor in the Middle East, in part, by building roads and schools in areas where government aid was scarce.

Nethercutt equally angered Democrats by telling university students last year that positive improvements in post-war Iraq offer “a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.” He later complained that his full comments were not quoted.

Both parties list the Washington Senate race as one of the top contests in the country, and both say their candidate has the advantage.

In a memo he wrote recently for his VOLPAC leadership political action committee, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) claimed that Murray’s re-elect numbers have dropped to 39 percent.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee challenged that assertion.

“No one knows where they got that,” spokeswoman Cara Morris said. “There’s no public poll showing Murray at 39 percent.”

Morris offered three polls taken last year — the most recent in November — by both Democratic and GOP firms.

One had Murray’s favorable ratings at 55 percent, and another had her beating Nethercutt 52 percent to 37 percent.