EVERETT - Now that Snohomish County Sheriff Patrick Murphy has apparently won the Democratic primary, it's time for some political fur to fly.
But Murphy's biggest critic isn't future opponent Rick Bart, a sheriff's lieutenant who took about 60 percent of the Republican vote in yesterday's preliminary election counts.
It's Fred Walser, Murphy's primary opponent who until last night had refrained from bad-mouthing his fellow Democrat.
"Patrick Murphy is an affront to law enforcement" because of his "untruthfulness" on many issues, said Walser, a retired Washington State Patrol lieutenant who took only 34 percent of the unofficial Democratic vote. "I will support Rick Bart to the fullest."
Since yesterday's primary was the county's first all-mail election, an unofficial final count won't be done until Friday. Preliminary results are based upon 88 percent of ballots received by last night.
Judging by those results, Murphy's fight to retain his job is far from over. Bart was last night's overall winner, taking 35 percent of the total vote compared to Murphy's 27 percent. Overall, Republicans took about 59 percent of the four-way vote.
"I can't believe that many people voted for me. It's a weird, wonderful feeling," said Bart, whose easy defeat of fellow Republican Stan Boyes surprised many onlookers.
"I thought it would be a lot closer than that," said Bart, 47. "Everyone worked so hard, and then to see that it paid off, it's wonderful."
Murphy also beamed with happiness and relief last night.
"I'm very excited, very pleased," said Murphy, 43, who was appointed sheriff in May after Jim Scharf quit to become Everett's police chief.
Before his appointment, Murphy served 13 years as police chief for the city of Snohomish.
But immediately after he was named sheriff, Murphy landed in a public-relations mess when the state Board of Pharmacy launched an investigation into his alleged abuse of prescription painkillers.
That investigation is now in the hands of the county prosecutor's office and the state attorney general's office.
Meanwhile, Murphy has undergone surgery to correct jaw problems caused by a 1989 injury. He returned to work last month, after a 45-day medical leave, saying his health and pain problems were resolved.
"That happened months and months ago. I think people realized what it is for what it is," Murphy said last night. "(The investigation) is not worth considering. It doesn't have merit."
So far, Murphy's personal problems haven't been milked by his political opponents.
Bart said he plans to keep it that way.
"There are other issues," Bart said. "We're going to run on the same things we've been talking about for 10 months. That's to get the sheriff's office closer to the community, be more responsive, and be the best sheriff's office in the state."
Murphy said he expects his department to continue to run smoothly in the next few months, even though the campaign pits himself against one of his own lieutenants.
"We're all professionals, and politics happen outside the office, not inside the office," he said.