Democratic Sen. Patty Murray moved a step closer toward a fourth term Tuesday by advancing past the primary in a race that could be pivotal in the battle for control of the Senate.
Murray and Republican Dino Rossi were the top two vote-getters in the primary and will face off again in November in a race that the GOP may need to win if it wants to take back control of the Senate.
Murray and Rossi already have been campaigning against each other in anticipation of a fall matchup, and President Obama came to the state Tuesday to bolster the incumbent's candidacy.
Rossi, a real estate investor who narrowly lost bids for governor in 2004 and 2008, has been attacking Murray over her efforts to bring home federal dollars at a time when the debt is soaring, and over her votes on the financial regulation bill.
Murray, who is fourth in Senate Democratic leadership, says her experience and clout in the nation's capital make her the right candidate for the job, and she says Rossi's opposition to financial regulation makes him "the best friend Wall Street and big banks can buy."
Washington is one of three states holding elections Tuesday. Wyoming was deciding a gubernatorial primary in the race to replace popular Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal, and Democrats in a legislative district along the California coast were hoping to lock up a state Senate seat in a closely watched special election that has attracted the interest of the president.
If the Democratic candidate wins the open seat, it would bring the party within one vote of the two-thirds majority they need in the Senate to approve budgets and tax increases. That possibility prompted the endorsement from the president, who says the ability of Republican state lawmakers to block the spending plans of majority Democrats is equivalent to the roadblocks he has faced in Congress. California Democrats are a couple of votes away from a two-thirds majority in the Assembly.
In Washington, the Senate race is a "top two" primary, meaning the candidates with the highest vote totals will move on to face each other in November.
With about 45 percent of the expected vote counted in unofficial results, Murray claimed first place with about 47 percent of the vote. Rossi took the second spot with about 34 percent.
GOP hopeful Clint Didier, a former NFL tight end for the Washington Redskins who has the backing of tea party activists and Sarah Palin, was running a distant third.
In Wyoming, Republicans are likely to reclaim a Democrat-held governor's seat. Freudenthal is term-limited, and Democrats were unable to field a strong candidate to replace him, meaning the winner of the GOP primary will be the big favorite in the general election.
The four leading candidates are Matt Mead, a former U.S. attorney for Wyoming; Ron Micheli, a former director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and longtime member of the state House; state auditor Rita Meyer, who is backed by Palin; and Colin Simpson, whose father and grandfather both represented Wyoming in the U.S. Senate.
The race was extremely tight, with Meyer and Mead a handful of votes apart.
The winner will face Wyoming Democratic Party chairwoman Leslie Petersen, who won her party's nomination.