Patty Murray: `When Does This Sink In?' -- Anita Hill, Sen. Mikulski Talk With The Senator-Elect

Too nervous on election day to eat, too excited to sleep, U.S. Sen.-elect Patty Murray drove home yesterday afternoon after a long adrenalin rush.

She had won. She had celebrated. She had victory-toured the network morning-news shows. Now, finally, she could get some rest.

Except the phone was ringing. Fighting back the urge to let it ring, Murray answered to find Anita Hill calling with her congratulations.

"She thanked me for having the courage and guts to come this far," Murray related a few minutes later.

"She said she had purposely stayed out of the limelight, but she said she just wanted to call and say thank you. I told her she had inspired me and many other people to run for the Senate. She was the person who should be thanked."

As Murray repeated several times yesterday, her victory over Republican Rep. Rod Chandler still hasn't sunk in.

But Hill's call - coming a little more than a year after her testimony in the Senate's confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas - made a perfect bookend for the extraordinary campaign that ended with Murray's election Tuesday.

Shortly after talking to Hill, the Shoreline Democrat called Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who has become a mentor for many Year of the Woman women.

"I said, `When does this sink in?' " Murray said. "And she said when you get sworn in and you sit on the floor of the Senate and you realize you're the sixth woman in history to be elected to this position."

Although she ran as a middle-class "mom in tennis shoes" and in fact has only four years' experience as a state lawmaker, Murray nevertheless tried during the campaign never to look too surprised by the events of her race.

But by last night, operating on just one hour of sleep in the previous 48, Murray had slowed down enough to reflect on the most gratifying and trying aspects of her yearlong campaign.

She said she's "not fazed" by the impending trappings of power, nor by her instant celebrity among the national media.

"What does faze me is the number of young girls Sara's age to 25 who have called me . . . or who I see on the street so excited," she said, referring to her 13-year-old daughter.

"And I realize what I am doing is telling them I can do this, and what a tremendous role model just running and winning has been for them.

"And that if I do what I want to do over the next six years, I can send a strong message to people - not just girls, but all kinds of people. That, to me, is exciting."

But she said the campaign also was trying for her family, which includes her husband, Rob, and 16-year-old son, Randy.

More experienced politicians may be used to brushing off the barbs of negative campaign ads, but for Murray and her family, it hurt to see TV commercials in which she was portrayed as unqualified or as a threat to people's jobs.

"When you run for office, you put yourself on the line," she said. "You're the subject of every kind of attack whether real or perceived. . . . I mean, it's a whole lot safer to sit at home and not be out there."

She realizes, she said, that the criticism won't stop now that the campaign has.

But if she plays a part in making people feel more connected to their government, she said, it will be worth it.

"Six years from now, if I'm running for re-election, I want to be able to say I truly made government work for a lot of people who today feel like it doesn't work for them.

"When I started this, I really believed a lot of people felt like I did, angry and frustrated," Murray said. "I know I went to the ballot every November and went, pssh, what's the difference?

"I really wanted to offer people a choice. I knew if I could get my message out and talk about what my vision was of what government ought to be, that people would choose that. And they did."