Vice President Joe Biden Campaigns for Sen. Patty Murray

Associated Press + More

TACOMA, Wash. — Vice President Joe Biden was the headliner at a Friday campaign rally for Sen. Patty Murray, kicking off get-out-the-vote efforts for the three-term Democrat facing a competitive re-election challenge.

Biden's appearance was part the national Democratic effort to avoid an election washout midway through President Barack Obama's term, as voters nationwide remain frustrated with an economy still struggling to create jobs.

Public polls have shown a close race between Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi, a two-time runner-up for governor.

Ballots will be sent to voters next week in Washington's heavily vote-by-mail election. Virtually everyone casts absentee ballots and only Pierce County maintains traditional polling places.

The outdoor rally was held under rain-spotted skies on the central stairway winding through the University of Washington's Tacoma campus. Murray supporters lined up early Friday for the event, which was free and open to the public.

A clutch of Rossi supporters also stood near the entrance to Friday's rally, waving signs that encouraged voters to fire Murray.

First elected in 1992 as a self-styled "mom in tennis shoes," Murray has risen to considerable power over 18 years. She is now chairwoman of a powerful spending subcommittee and holds the No. 4 spot in the Democratic Senate leadership.

[See who is donating to Murray.]

Rossi and Republicans are using that against her as they try to corral voter discontent following the Great Recession, highlighting Murray's votes for the $787 billion stimulus package, sweeping health-care reform and bank bailouts.

In a statement issued ahead of the rally, Rossi highlighted Friday's report showing the national unemployment rate remained at 9.6 percent. The latest state figures peg Washington's jobless rate at 8.9 percent.

"We don't need another stimulus or more spending, we need commonsense policies to help entrepreneurs put people back to work — we need a course correction," Rossi said.

[See an Opinion slide show of 10 wasteful stimulus projects.]

Murray also has been sharp in attacking Rossi, particularly over his desire to repeal the Democrats' recent Wall Street reforms. Murray has cast herself as standing with middle-class voters, and says Rossi is on the side of powerful bankers.

Biden began his day in Seattle raising money for Democrat Denny Heck, who is running a competitive race with Republican Jaime Herrera for the open congressional seat in southwestern Washington. Incumbent Democratic Rep. Brian Baird is retiring.

Murray also is planning campaign visits from former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama later this month.