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The President’s Yes Girl Patty Murray Says No to One Thing: Debating

Time and time again, when Pres. Barack Obama has come courting Sen. Patty Murray for passage of his liberal big government agenda, the three-term legislator has been found already nodding affirmatively with the gratuitous enthusiasm of a bobblehead in a magnitude nine tremor. When it came to getting a yes vote from Murray on the largely unpopular and economically poisonous healthcare reform bill, or on big government failouts (bailout + failure = failout) like the Cash for Clunkers and Making Home Affordable programs, every time Obama has had Patty at “hello.”

Yet, when it comes to answering questions before the public about the wonder that has been the third term of Sen. Patty Murray, the word yes disappears more quickly from her vocabulary than snack foods at a Dave Matthews concert.

Media outlets and business groups have been throwing themselves at Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi, offering what could have been a series of four or five televised debates and a great opportunity for voters to develop a strong sense of where both candidates stand on issues, and how they feel about speaking to their constituents. Instead, Murray has declined more invites than she has accepted and voters will have to settle for only two debates, one hosted by KOMO television in Seattle, the other by KSPS television in Spokane.

Murray campaign spokeswoman Julie Edwards told The Seattle Times that the two debates will “be available to statewide audiences and reach as many voters as possible.” In fact, the total absence of overlap between those markets means that voters will effectively have only one opportunity to hear their senior Senator defend her record and lay out the case for why she should be returned to the Capitol for a fourth term.

Murray turned down the latest invite on Wednesday, a debate that would have been sponsored by KING 5 television, The Seattle Times, KIRO Radio and Northwest Cable News, tentatively to be aired live on October 15 in prime time, the exact date ballots will be mailed out to voters in most counties.

Rossi didn’t mince words in giving Washingtonians his opinion of what message Murray is sending to voters by opting out of so many chances to debate the issues.

“Sen. Murray is shortchanging you and the other voters of our state by denying them the chance to hear directly from her about her votes which have jeopardized the economy and put our fellow citizens out of work,” Rossi said in an open letter to Washingtonians.

Rossi also reiterated his commitment to keep four debate dates on his schedule that Murray has turned down – the invitations made by KING 5, KCTS/Yakima Herald, Greater Tacoma Rotary and KIRO – in the hopes that she will reconsider.

“I hope that she will decide that you deserve more than sound bites and negative 30-second ads,” Rossi said. “This election is about the direction our country is headed and you need to hear directly from both candidates as to how they plan to get the economy back on track and put people to work.”

As sensible as Rossi’s offer may sound to Joe and Jane Washingtonian, Murray’s advisers are unlikely to let her off the leash. Stonewalling on debates allowed her to breeze past her last challenger, former Spokane congressman George Nethercutt, in 2004, by allowing only two debates. The political landscape has changed significantly since 2004, however, when the enthusiasm gap tipped in favor of Democrats. If Republicans have truly regained the pole position to get out the vote on Election Day, Murray’s decision not to take the stage and carry the banner for her party could compound the very real problem of Democratic ennui.

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