The Good Democrat: Patty Murray Quietly Surging In WA-SEN

While the political earth shifts around her, Sen. Patty Murray appears to have grounded herself in Washington state. While the national press largely passes her race by, Murray — who at the start of the summer was, according to conventional wisdom, a Vulnerable Democrat — appears to have built the momentum she needs to comfortably compete for a third term.

Of course, as must always be said at this point, nothing is set in stone. Murray is up against Dino Rossi, one of the few establishment Republican nominee picks to make it past a tea party primary opponent this year. Rossi was, at one time, one of the brightest stars in NRSC chair John Cornyn’s 2010 universe, and the party is expected to keep pumping support Rossi’s way as long as things stay close.

And they are close.

If Murray was the Vulnerable Democrat in the original Washington state narrative, Rossi was (in the view of most Republican establishment figures) the ideal Formidable Opponent to defeat her. But as election season has proceeded, that storyline has proven to be more and more far-fetched. Murray, quite simply, is winning while Rossi is losing. And it’s been that way for awhile.The TPM Poll Average shows Murray ahead 49.9-46.6. That’s close enough to be uncomfortable if you’re an incumbent Democrat in the Year Of The Republican. But look at the trendlines — Murray is slowly steaming ahead while Rossi appears to be dropping back:

The 9/12 Elway Poll (well-respected in Washington) shows Murray ahead by 9, leading 50-41. Pollster Stuart Elway told the Seattle Times that there’s still room for Rossi to close the gap, but that the Republican will have to do some damage to Murray to make it work.

“Any way these data are sliced, victory for Dino Rossi requires that he take votes away from Murray,” Elway told the paper. “And you thought this campaign has been hard hitting so far.”

It has. Murray’s already been hit in TV ads by the same firm that brought you “demon sheep.” And Murray’s thrown her punches too, running an ad calling Rossi — who ran for governor twice before making his Senate run — “best friends” with George W. Bush. (Not great company in a state that even Rasmussen shows is evenly split when it comes to support for President Obama.)

If Rossi wants to win the way Elway says he needs to, he’ll need to start doing it quick. Recent polls show Murray with a 52% favorabilty rating and approval ratings that greatly outweigh her disapproval ratings. That’s not a good sign for Rossi, who needs to start tearing Murray down if he wants to find a win.

It’s not time for Murray to relax yet, either. She’s still running a razor-thin race in a year that does not favor her party or the votes for Obama’s policy agenda she’s cast. As Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza told ABC News’ Topline in the days after Murray and Rossi emerged from Washington’s top-two primary, Rossi has a lot to fight for.

“The cornered animal is the most dangerous animal,” Cillizza said, referring to Rossi’s two failed runs for governor. “I would say Dino Rossi looks at this and he says if he loses this one, that’s it — he’s not going to be in politics anymore.