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Oregon and Washington Senators Ron Wyden and Patty Murray seek re-election this year against relatively minor opponents Jo Rae Perkins and Tiffany Smiley, respectively. Wyden and Murray are expected to win but could lose their powerful committee chairmanships if Republicans regain control of the Senate in the midterm election.

Both Will Lose Chairmanships If Dems Lose Senate Control

The senior senators from Oregon and Washington are standing for re-election in November and both face conservative Republican opponents. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Washington Senator Patty Murray, both Democrats, are expected to win their races but return to Congress in the minority if Republicans hold at least 51 seats.

Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has staged an aggressive issue-centered campaign in his bid for a fifth 6-year term after he was won a 1996 special election to replace former Senator Bob Packwood who resigned. Murray, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team, is seeking a sixth term after she ran successfully as a “mom in tennis shoes” in 1992 to replace retiring former Senator Brock Adams.

Wyden’s main opponent is Republican Jo Rae Perkins, a semi-retired insurance agent from Albany who identifies with QAnon. There are two minor party candidates on the ballot – Dan Pulju representing the Pacific Green Party and Chris Henry for the Progressive Party. Wyden also has been endorsed by Oregon’s Independent Party and Perkins by the Constitution Party.

Oregon and national Republicans have paid little attention to her race, focusing instead on closely contested contests for governor and three congressional seats. Perkins gained notoriety in her unsuccessful 2020 bid to unseat Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. The night she won the GOP primary, Perkins posted a video on her campaign website praising QAnon. Her staff took down the post, which caught the eye of national media.

Perkins expressed regret the video was removed as she gave conflicting comments about her relationship with the conspiracy group. The New York Times quoted her as saying, “We are seeing more and more people getting emboldened as we see more and more information get out there. And as people put together more and more pieces of the puzzle, they can see, yeah, this is real.” In another interview, Perkins said she only consulted the QAnon message board for information.

Wyden’s ads center on issues such as abortion rights and legislation he has or will propose, including steps to prevent price-gouging by the oil industry.

Murray finished first in Washington’s Top-Two primary in August and will face the second-place finisher, Republican Tiffany Smiley, a nurse and former president of Hope Unseen, a nonprofit that works to improve awareness and advance research for blindness. Smiley cofounded the group after her husband was blinded by shrapnel from a suicide bomber while serving in Iraq in 2005 and after recovering returned to active service as the first completely blind member of the US military. Their general election contest has been livelier than the one between Wyden and Perkins.

Smiley has taken aim at a wide range of targets, including the Seattle Seahawks, Starbucks and The Seattle Times, which she calls “woke corporations”. Appearing frequently on Fox News, she also has pounded the City of Seattle for being “liberal” and “crime-ridden”. Her latest ad features Smiley in front of a Seattle Starbucks coffee shop blaming Murray for the rise of urban crime. Like Republicans nationwide, Smiley blames Murray and Democrats for high inflation and rising gas prices.

Murray appears to be taking the challenge seriously, raising almost $18 million to wage her campaign. Smiley has attracted almost $13 million, which is a lot compared to previous challengers and considering the seniority Murray has accumulated in her Senate tenure. Before Murray was elected, Washington Senator Warren Magnuson, the sitting chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was defeated by Republican Attorney General Slade Gordon in 1980. Two years after Murray joined the Senate, Washington Congressman Tom Foley, then Speaker of the House, was defeated in his 1994 re-election bid.

In her campaign, Murray stresses the threat to abortion rights by Republican majorities in Congress. Smiley says she personally opposes abortion and believes the issue is properly a state matter. Murray touts Democratic legislative achievements such as the Inflation Reduction Act that contained climate change provisions and lowered the cost of prescription drug prices.

Murray has tied Smiley to former President Donald Trump and his MAGA followers. One of Murray’s campaign ads show Smiley standing with Trump. Smiley says the picture was taken in connection with her advocacy for better medical care for veterans.

If Republicans regain control of the Senate in the midterm election, Wyden and Murray will lose their high-profile committee chairmanships.

Political experts say five races could tip the balance of power in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans each have 50 members. The pivotal races are in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada and Arizona. Democratic incumbents hold three of those seats and the other two are open seats currently held by retiring Republicans. Two races with GOP incumbents in Florida and Wisconsin and the race in Colorado with a Democratic incumbent are also viewed as potential upsets.

If Republicans regain control of the Senate, Wyden and Murray would lose their chairmanships. Oregon and Washington both have two Democrats as their senators. The last time an incumbent senator in Oregon lost a re-election bid was 2008 when Jeff Merkley narrowly defeated Republican Gordon Smith. Warren Magnuson, who served in Congress 44 years, was the last incumbent senator in Washington to face defeat in the 1980 election.