They've built fascinating and incredibly successful political careers on their populist roots, one of them getting to the Capitol in her tennis shoes and the other on the write-in votes of her friends from church.
But the truth, as Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Linda Smith enter the final days of one of the nation's most-watched U.S. Senate races, is that they're about as different as a pair of "common people" can be.
Not only do they invoke their populism in staking out polar-opposite policy positions, but they've morphed the very idea of being "of the people" to fit their political styles. Or is it the other way around?
Murray, the former parent activist completing her first six-year term in the Senate, brushes aside criticism that she is ineffective by seeming to make a virtue of the fact that she doesn't fit easily into the country's most exclusive club. At the same time, she claims as her role model no lesser an insider than the late Sen. Warren Magnuson, fellow Democrat and king of the pork-barrelers, and boasts about her seat on the dollar-doling Appropriations Committee.
Smith, a former Clark County businesswoman whose popularity among Christian and anti-tax conservatives helped propel her to Congress four years ago, delights in tweaking the establishment - even her Republican leader, Newt Gingrich. She's been no more effective at passing legislation than Murray, maybe less. But she's generated a steady stream of national headlines and forced her colleagues to think twice about how they do business - all, she says, with the noble goal of being the conscience of the little guy and voice for smaller government, lower taxes and accountability.
SMOOTH, BUT FOLKSY
Their campaigns, too, are a mix of political-pro strategies and Joe Six-Pack messages.
For months, Murray has been airing soothing television commercials that make her look so motherly and nonthreatening, in her soft pinks and scarves, that voters might mistake her for a schoolteacher. She hopes they do. Smith, on the other hand, has been working the coffee-and-donut circuit, tapping into the statewide grass-roots network that has been the marvel of political pundits who, when it comes to Smith, often have had to eat their predictions.
To prove her mettle as a campaign-finance reformer, Smith has sworn off the special-interest money Murray willingly accepts - or nearly sworn off it, given some of the independent help she's getting from the state and national GOP. What she has been able to raise directly - the largest checks being those from lumber companies and builders - has been spent playing up her image as an unapologetic rebel.
Washington's is the only woman vs. woman Senate race in the country this year - the third in history. Both candidates have skillfully used their roles as mothers (in Smith's case, a grandmother) to appeal for votes. But gender has been more of a backdrop than issue. While reporters all over the country have peeked in on the race, viewing it as something of an oddity, Washington state voters seem to barely notice.
What is most striking is how much Murray and Smith disagree, on everything from affirmative action and abortion to environmental policies, trade with China and federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Each candidate leans toward her party's extreme outer edge. Both echo the need for campaign-finance reform and bringing government down from its ivory-tower mentality, but have vastly different ways of promoting it.
The race, fueled by more than $7 million in combined contributions to both candidates, has been surprisingly quiet. The skirmishes and squabbles that often characterize such prominent contests have been rare, purposely so from Murray's standpoint.
She only agreed to one debate with Smith. And the one held - eight days ago, after weeks of back-room negotiations and hand wringing from both campaigns - was so tightly formatted before television cameras that neither candidate had time to do much more than rattle off her views and smile. As it was, the answers were predictable, save, perhaps, for the moment when both women wiggled their way around the issue of campaign-finance reform.
Murray, haunted by the perception that she's legislatively underwhelming and not very smart, rarely ventures out in public and does most of her talking on television. When she does make speeches, she's usually paying a visit to labor unions or other Democratic faithful.
She is on pace to set a fund-raising record for statewide candidates, and polls show her with a comfortable lead. But, given Smith's track record for pulling off upsets, Murray isn't taking chances. Her ads have gone from soft-sell to sharp-edged in their portrayal of Smith as a right-wing extremist.
Murray's entree to the Senate was a bootstrap labor of love six years ago, run by political novices and 20-something women who were angered by the cold shoulder Anita Hill got from the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991. This year, her re-election campaign is run largely by staffers and consultants from Washington, D.C. - experienced, calculating and intensely protective of Murray.
There are few unguarded moments with the former school-board member and state senator from Shoreline. In contrast to 1992, when she would gab with reporters endlessly about her desire to shake things up, this year Murray plays up her role as an experienced lawmaker and rarely goes beyond practiced responses.
After stumbling in the Senate the first four years of her term, she is trying to make a name for herself as the point person on education and friend to Boeing and Microsoft, eager to compromise and get along. The corporate business leaders who once belittled her for being uninterested in their issues now regard her as one of their biggest advocates.
"I've learned that you have to reach across the aisle to get things done," she says.
It's Murray's down-to-earth personality and concern for common people that her supporters find particularly appealing. Rather than seek wholesale changes in government, she tackles issues piece by piece - from protecting children from X-rated material on the Internet to helping homeowners in Kelso get help with slide damage to their homes.
She speaks movingly about her modest background growing up in Bothell, and is proud of the fact that she still buys the family groceries: "I am very grounded in what I care about, and what got me to where I am now."
MURRAY LOST SOME SUPPORT
Some of her early supporters have walked away from the 1998 re-election bandwagon, saying they think Murray has sold out on her mom-in-tennis-shoes promises. And her unwillingness to take risks and grab the spotlight has created the perception, even among some supporters, that she's too cautious and dull.
Smith, meanwhile, struggles to get her message out.
Drained by an expensive primary race against Seattle multimillionaire Chris Bayley, she has been unable to match the television ads financed by Murray, environmental groups and the Democratic Party. GOP supporters have sought an assist from party groups in Washington, D.C. But accepting help has also forced Smith into a delicate dance around her self-imposed ban on special-interest money, not to mention her open criticism over the years of Republican elders.
Smith happily accepted a $100,000 gift from the National Republican Committee last week, though the committee gets much of its money from tobacco companies and special interests. She said it doesn't break her promise because she doesn't know where the money came from. Murray turned around and called her a hypocrite.
Aggressive and fiercely independent, Smith still fits the role of quintessential populist. In four years, she has also gained the distinction of being one of the most disliked members of Congress. Her fire-and-brimstone attitude about cleaning up government makes fellow Republicans uneasy. But it has also won the unwavering respect and loyalty of her followers.
"If you're a leader, lead by example," she says. "No matter what party you're in, you need to have independence."
She was the only Republican to vote against the IRS-reform bill this year, saying she couldn't in good conscience back legislation that included $10 billion in cuts in health-care benefits for veterans. She also defied Boeing and GOP brethren by voting against trade with China, citing human rights violations and unfair trade practices.
She continues to talk about accountability and streamlining government, a theme that compelled her to run for the Legislature in 1983 and gave her prominence during the heady days of the anti-tax movement of the early 1990s. She led two successful ballot initiatives to victory, one on campaign-finance reform and another that limited state spending; the latter, Initiative 601, remains her proudest achievement.
Today, as the Republican nominee, Smith flings away at Murray's votes to cut veterans' health-care benefits and accuses her of using the Social Security Trust Fund to help balance the budget. But the complaints haven't gained much traction.
She is overshadowed by fears within her own party that her campaign will take the same electoral dive as that of Ellen Craswell, the Christian activist who ran against Democrat Gary Locke for governor in 1996.
BROAD CONSERVATIVE BACKING
As one of the most socially conservative members of Congress, she has backing from Craswell's followers and the Christian Coalition. But her base of support, known colloquially as "Linda's Army," also cuts a broader swath of anti-tax Perotistas, property-rights activists and small-business leaders.
Realizing that a statewide victory can't be won without suburban votes, Smith is, like Murray, trying to strengthen her image as an experienced congresswoman. She rails against pork-barrel politics, for example, but touts her attempt to get money for road and highway projects. She's also talking about kids and, for the first time, is willing to spend more money on education.
The political environment has changed dramatically since the early 1990s, posing new challenges for both women. Now, instead of questions about the behavior of Thomas, the conservative Supreme Court nominee, and Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., the attention is on a Democratic president. That has put Murray and other Democratic women in the U.S. Senate in the delicate position of treading lightly on President Clinton's sex escapade, and provoked Smith to accuse Murray of another form of hypocrisy.
Smith, on the other hand, is grappling with the realization that voters just aren't as angry as they were when she gained fame as the hard-charging tax-reformer once courted by Ross Perot as a vice-presidential nominee on the Reform Party ticket.
Murray scored something of a coup with her long-held passion - education - two weeks ago when her proposal to hire 100,000 new teachers suddenly became the trophy in Clinton's budget negotiations with Republicans. Clinton forced the GOP to swallow the idea and fork over $1.2 billion as a down payment, taking a slice out of the budget surplus.
Murray's fleeting moment of victory, however, has also become a metaphor for just how starkly different each candidate views the world through her own populist prism.
By her lights, the hiring of new teachers shows the federal government helping families in the most effective way, by taking more responsibility for education and removing children from overcrowded classrooms. To Smith, the former tax-consultant from Hazel Dell, the goal was laudable, the billion unnecessary. Convinced teacher money could have been squeezed out of bureaucracy, she saw it as a fitting portrayal of how willing Murray is to dip her hand into the cookie jar for another government program.
On Nov. 3, Washington state voters decide which prism they prefer.
Barbara A. Serrano's phone message number is 206-464-2927. Her e-mail address is: email@example.com ------------------------------- Patty Murray .
-- Born: Oct. 11, 1950, in Seattle . -- Education: Graduated from Washington State University with a bachelor's degree in recreation . -- Home: Queen Anne . -- Family: Married to Rob Murray; two children, Randy, 21, and Sara, 18 . -- Little-known fact: Played the flute in the WSU band . -- Political experience:
1992-present: Elected to U.S. Senate (first woman to serve on Veterans Affairs Committee) .
1989-1992: Elected to Washington State Senate .
1985-1989: Elected to Shoreline School Board .
1983-1988: Worked as citizen lobbyist in Olympia on education and environmental issues . -- Accomplishments:
1998: Sponsored President Clinton's proposal to hire 100,000 new teachers in poor school districts to reduce class size; Congress approved $1.2 billion to hire 30,000
1998: Sponsored budget language requiring technology training for new teachers; also secured $75 million to fund training and other programs designed to improve teaching quality.
1998: Passed budget amendment requiring public schools to install software that blocks X-rated material on computers with government-discount Internet access.
1991: Sponsored state law that requires school buses to install front-bumper guards to protect children crossing the street.
1991: Sponsored state law requiring pesticide operators to notify residents before spraying in neighborhoods.
1989: Sponsored state law requiring employers to grant unpaid leave to workers with a new child or a family medical emergency. -- Voting record:
Votes with her party 85 percent to 93 percent of the time
Votes with President Clinton 85 percent to 90 percent of the time
How to contact Murray . E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web page: www.pattymurray98.com
Campaign phone: (206) 443-8636 .
Linda Smith -- Born: July 16, 1950, in La Junta, Colo. -- Education: High-school diploma, tax-preparation courses . -- Home: Hazel Dell, Clark County . -- Family: Married to Vern Smith; one daughter, Sherri, 29, and one son, Robert, 27; six grandchildren . -- Little-known fact: Likes to make zucchini relish for friends and neighbors
-- Political experience:
1994-present: Elected to U.S. House of Representatives, 3rd Congressional District. First member of Congress to win a write-in candidacy to the ballot.
1983-1987: Elected to the Washington state House of Representatives
1987-1994: Elected to the Washington State Senate . -- Accomplishments:
1995-1998: Offered amendment each year to end tobacco subsidies; each failed by a slim margin .
1996: Sponsored and passed a bill to protect senior citizens' pensions from out-of-state tax collectors .
1995: Co-sponsored ban on gifts and trips by lobbyists for members of Congress .
1993: Authored and led campaign for Initiative 601, which set spending limits on state government .
1992: Co-authored Initiative 134, which established new rules for political contributions to candidates and state parties .
1991: Led effort against Initiative 119, which would have made assisted-suicide legal in Washington .
1989: Co-chaired campaign against Initiative 102, the Children's Initiative, which proposed a tax increase for social services and other programs -- Voting record:
Votes with her party 85 percent to 93 percent of the time
Votes with President Clinton 14 percent to 25 percent of the time
How to contact Smith
Web page: www.lindasmith.com
Campaign phone: (425) 957-7676 ------------------------------- Performance ratings
The percentages represent the times Patty Murray and Linda Smith have voted with organizations' positions at various points in their congressional careers.
MURRAY 80 percent to 100 percent Children's Defense Fund, National Education Association, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, League of Conservation Voters, Handgun Control, AFL-CIO, The Teamsters, Planned Parenthood, Americans for Democratic Action, National Abortion Reproductive Rights Action League and National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare
0 percent to 20 percent The Christian Coalition, Center for Security Policy, Competitive Enterprise Institute (Deregulation), Federation for American Immigration Reform, the League of Private Property Voters, National Taxpayers Union, Citizens Against Government Waste
80 percent to 100 percent National Right to Life Committee, Christian Coalition, League of Private Property Voters, National Federation of Independent Business, Citizens Against Government Waste, Concerned Women for America and Vietnam Veterans of America
0 percent to 20 percent American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Human Rights Campaign, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, AFL-CIO, The Teamsters, American Association of University Women
Source: Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan, voter-education organization in Oregon ------------------------------- Where Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Linda Smith stand on the issues:
Would you support making the most-favored-nation trade agreement with China permanent? . Murray: Yes . Smith: No .
Do you support Initiative 688, which would raise the minimum wage? Murray: Yes . Smith: No .
Do you support Initiative 694, which would prohibit certain abortions? Murray: No . Smith: Yes .
Do you support Initiative 200, which would prohibit preferential treatment in government hiring and education? Murray: No . Smith: Yes .
Do you support a repeal of the marriage-penalty tax? Murray: Yes . Smith: Yes .
Should Congress ban the use of unregulated "soft money" in federal elections? Murray: Yes . Smith: Yes .
The federal budget is expecting a budget surplus. What do you want to do with it?
Murray: . First and foremost, we must save Social Security. If we meet our responsibility to protect benefits for retirees, we can take up broader questions of tax reform. As a member of the budget committee, I have worked hard to deliver the first balanced budget in 30 years. Unfortunately, we're already seeing irresponsible ideas that could bring back big budget deficits.
Smith: . The highly touted budget surplus is a phantom surplus that raids Social Security Trust Fund dollars. Surplus Social Security funds should be dedicated to retirement security for the next generations of retirees. Surplus tax revenue (non-Social Security) should be returned to families by eliminating the marriage penalty and inheritance taxes.
If you could pass only one bill, what would it be?
Murray: To ensure that Social Security and Medicare will be there for our children and grandchildren. Social Security has been effective in eliminating poverty by providing a safety net on which everyone can rely. It is a fundamental part of American life, but unfortunately, we are hearing about irresponsible schemes that could jeopardize the sanctity of the commitment we have made to our nation's seniors.
Smith: Reforming the tax code, starting with abolishing the death tax, the marriage penalty tax, and eventually replacing the entire code with a fairer and simpler system. We need to free our families and small businesses from the harness of burdensome taxes and regulations and end the corporate welfare freely given to large corporations in the form of extensive tax loopholes. ------------------------------- Murray is outraising Smith in Senate race for 1997-98, through Sept. 30
Patty Murray Linda Smith
In millions of dollars Receipts $4.2 million $3.4 million . Expenditures $3.7 million $3 million . PACs $0.6 million - . Individuals $3.2 million $3.4 million .
Murray's PAC contributions#
Here are Patty Murray's PAC contributions. LInda Smith accepts no PAC contributions, however she received $100,00 from the National Republican Committee, which gets much of its moeny from special interests.
Labor 36% . Services 15% . Other 25% . Finance, Insurance, real estate 5% . Political organizations 14% . Transportation, communication, utilities 5% .
Total: $6643,084 # As classified by FECinfo.
To Murray: Emily's List $34,175 . Boeing Co. $24,250 . Microsoft $21,686 . Machinists/Aerospace
Workers Union $15.00 . Deloitte & Touche $14,250 .
High Cascase Venner $6,750 . Hardel Lumber $6,000 . Excellence Consulting $5,900 . Longview Fibre $4,750 . Wind River Logging Co. $4,500 .
# Through Sept.30 . ## Through Aug. 26 . SOURCE: Center for Responsive Politics. ------------------------------- THE SEATTLE TIMES