Chris Vance for U.S. Senate: A longshot candidacy?

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Chris Vance

Chris Vance looks to Slade Gorton, Maria Cantwell and George Nethercutt for inspiration.

Each of those three knocked out a deeply-entrenched congressional icon from Washington state.

Democrat Sen. Warren Magnuson spent 36 years in Washington, D.C., before the Republicans’ Slade Gorton upset him in 1980. Democrat Maria Cantwell defeated Gorton in 2000. And Nethercutt unseated Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Foley in 1994 despite Foley’s 30 years in office at the time.

Acknowledging that he is trying to oust a powerful incumbent, Vance says, “I think the voters of Washington have a history of doing this.”

Vance, 53, announced Tuesday that he is running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, 64, who has been in office for 24 years and is the 12th most senior senator in Washington, D.C.

Vance is a public affairs consultant, an adviser to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and a part-time teacher at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs. He represented the Auburn area in the Washington House from 1991 to 1993. He was a King County Council member from 1994 to 2001, and chair of the state Republican Party from 2001 to 2006. (For the past six years, Vance also frequently wrote political analysis articles for Crosscut, the final one appearing in July of this year.)

He describes himself as a moderate Republican able to work across the aisle for compromises, while describing Murray as part of the reason for gridlock in Washington, D.C. “Gridlock, it has reached the point where I’m tired of talking about it and want to do something about it,” Vance said. Vance released information on his policy positions on his campaign’s Web site.

As for replacing a senior Democrat with a freshman Republican, Vance pointed to current freshman GOP senators who have become influential in Washington, D.C. — presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

Vance criticized Murray for co-writing the 2013 federal budget, which failed to decrease the nation’s $18 trillion national debt. However, the state Democratic Party pointed to Murray’s work on that budget as an example of her working across party lines on a bipartisan budget.

Murray’s campaign Web site acknowledged Vance’s candidacy with a skeptically worded statement: “After years as a professional partisan Republican advocating for failed Republican candidates and failed Republican policies, he is going to be fighting hard to convince voters that we need more Republicans like him in the other Washington.”

The state Democratic Party points to a 2005 column by former Seattle Times editorial writer Joni Balter that said: “Vance is the outspoken, in-your-face chairman of the state GOP who has never wanted to be just party chairman. He ran for state superintendent of public instruction, a non-partisan post, in 1996 and lost. He ran for the Ninth Congressional District in 2000 and was beaten by Adam Smith, collecting a mere 35 percent of the vote. Landslide Vance lives and breathes politics. He would run and doorbell at a pace the would tire the Energizer Bunny.”

Murray tallied 54 percent of the votes when she first entered the Senate with her “Mom in Tennis Shoes” campaign in 1992. She captured 58 percent in 1998, 55 percent in 2004 and 52 percent going against Dino Rossi in 2010. She has collected $3.8 million in her war chest so far for the 2016 race, according to the Federal Elections Commission. In 2010, she collected $12.7 million in donations compared to $7.3 million by Rossi.

In Vance’s favor is the fact that Murray’s winning percentages have decreased each election since 1998. On the other hand, Murray has posted a solid record in the Senate, has vigorously looked after the state’s interests and appears not to have made any mistakes that would directly cost her substantial numbers of voters.

Murray’s relatively close call against Rossi featured an opponent with high name recognition statewide from losing a 2004 run for governor by just 129 votes and coming close again in 2008. And, despite the state’s history of occasional congressional upsets, there is a still-to-be unanswered question of whether Vance can do better than such a GOP favorite as Rossi in a statewide election.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8