U.S. Senate candidates Patty Murray and Tiffany Smiley meet for final time before election in Seattle town hall

SEATTLE – In their last meeting before the Nov. 8 general election, U.S. Senate candidates Patty Murray and Tiffany Smiley continued to disagree on abortion, gun violence, climate change, student loan forgiveness and inflation.

The race could prove to be one of the closest for Washington’s U.S. Senate seat in recent years, with recent polls showing the gap between Murray, Washington’s 30-year incumbent and Smiley, a political newcomer from Pasco, is closing.

A Friday poll from KHQ-TV and The Spokesman-Review showed Murray with a 5-percentage-point lead, within the margin of error. A Trafalgar Group poll released Friday showed Murray leading Smiley by just over 1 percentage point. Other polls, such as the WA Poll conducted by the Seattle Times and other media outlets, show Murray up by 8 percentage points. National pollster Nate Silver at 538 shows Murray up by about 7 percentage points.

In their last appearance together, the candidates kept to most of their campaign talking points.

Smiley criticized Murray for not doing enough for Washington in her 30 years as a senator.

“Washington state deserves a fighter,” she said.

In an interview after the town hall, Murray acknowledged that people are frustrated with what’s happening in their lives right now. She said there is a lot at stake this election, pointing to her beliefs in protecting democracy and allowing a woman to make her own health care choices.

“These are the things I know I can bring to the United States Senate,” she said.

During the town hall, hosted by Seattle news station KIRO 7, candidates answered questions from an audience made up of representatives from a number of civic and nonprofit organizations. They included the League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund, Northwest African American Museum and the Ethnic Chamber of Commerce Coalition.

It was the second meeting between the two candidates, following last week’s debate at Gonzaga University hosted by The Spokesman-Review and the League of Women Voters.

The town hall touched on topics that both candidates have already discussed, but also some they haven’t been as outspoken about, such as student loan forgiveness, immigration and climate change.

On student loan forgiveness, Murray said she supports steps President Joe Biden took to forgive up to $20,000 of student loans for borrowers across the country.

She said the country needs to re-evaluate the cost of college, and that she supports incentivizing states to pay for college, making community college free and revamping the student loan-forgiveness system.

Smiley said she does not support Biden’s student loan forgiveness, calling it “unfair” for people who did not go to college. She said she wants to expose more students to trade programs and other career pathways outside of college.

Smiley added she would encourage people to serve their country in the military, which offers loan forgiveness for students.

Murray criticized Smiley for being a climate change denier. In last week’s debate, Smiley did not answer whether she believed humans caused climate change.

On Sunday, Smiley fought back.

“I don’t know why Sen. Murray calls me a climate denier, because I’m not,” she said, adding she “absolutely” believes humans have a role in a changing climate.

On immigration, both candidates said they would support allowing a pathway to legal citizenship for current “Dreamers,” those who traveled to the United States as children and were protected from deportation by actions of the Barack Obama administration.

Murray said protections for Dreamers should be expanded, but Smiley said border security needs to improve before that happens.

Both candidates were asked who won the 2020 election and answered Joe Biden, but disagreed on how to work with those who distrust election results. Murray said she has won and lost elections.

“We count on and trust this democracy,” she said. “And we, after they’ve been certified, don’t question them.”

Smiley said it should be “easy to vote and hard to cheat” in the United States.

The candidates also talked about the issues that have become most important to them on the campaign trail, including abortion, crime and inflation.

Murray reiterated she supports codifying the legal protection for an abortion in the now-overturned Roe v. Wade decision and creating exemptions to the filibuster to do so.

When asked if she supported late-term abortions, Murray said again she would support legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade, but did not directly address late-term abortions.

Though she identifies as pro-life, Smiley has said she will not vote for a nationwide abortion ban as she believes the question should remain up to the states.

At Sunday’s debate, Smiley repeated that position. Smiley was asked about her support of the Texas abortion law that bans all abortions unless the patient is facing a life-threatening condition. The law criminalizes performing an abortion, and doctors who do so can face up to life in prison or a $100,000 fine.

“There are parts of the Texas law I do not like and I was clear about that,” Smiley said, though she didn’t specifically mention which parts she did not support.

Both candidates were asked how they would address crime and their interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Smiley said she supported the bill that Congress passed earlier this year that increased mental health resources, expanded background checks and strengthened red flag laws. Smiley did not say what other gun laws she might support, if elected, only that the country has a mental health and crime problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

In last week’s debate, Smiley said she wants to protect Second Amendment rights but also that weapons should be kept out of the hands of criminals.

Murray said she has worked to get funding for police officer retention and increase mental health resources. She said she supports further legislation to ban assault weapons and increase background checks.

On inflation, Smiley criticized Murray’s support of the American Rescue Plan, which Smiley said has caused record-high inflation. Economists disagree on the effect of the American Rescue Plan on inflation.

Smiley said the people of Washington need more than an electric vehicle voucher, for example, to help with inflation.

Murray pointed to the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act as ways she has helped work to reduce inflation. Throughout the campaign, Murray has pointed to her work in Congress most recently to lower costs, such as reducing costs for prescription drugs, insulin, Medicare and health insurance.

Murray said Sunday there needs to be more of a focus on child care and housing to address rising costs.

On rising gas prices specifically, Murray said she supports Biden’s view on using the strategic national oil reserve to help lower gas prices, though it is not a long-term solution.

In a post-town hall interview, Smiley said she does not support using the petroleum reserve as it would be “extremely dangerous.”