Fresh from speaking to an anti-tax Tea Party rally in Olympia, state Sen. Don Benton announced Monday he has officially filed his candidacy for the U.S. Senate with the Federal Election Commission.
Benton, R-Vancouver, announced at the Clark County GOP’s Feb. 6 Lincoln Day Dinner that he would challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray this year.
In a statement, Benton said that with his 15 years of legislative experience, he has “emerged as the strongest contender in the race.”
Five other Republicans, none with statewide name familiarity, have filed for the seat. They are Arthur Cody Jr., Clint B. Didier, Rodney Joe Rieger, Sean Corey Salazar and Craig Lewis Williams.
A new Rasmussen Reports telephone poll of likely voters in the state, conducted Feb. 11 and released Monday, shows Benton polling 38 percent to 50 percent for Murray in a hypothetical matchup. Didier, a former pro football player active in the Tea Party movement, polled 34 percent to 49 percent for Murray. And Widener, a businessman and motivational speaker, polled 33 percent to 48 percent for Murray.
Republican two-time gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, who has said he is not interested in running for the Senate, led the field, with 48 percent to 46 percent for Murray.
Murray, who is serving her third six-year term, chairs the powerful Transportation Appropriations Committee. She enters the race with a $5 million campaign war chest.
Benton says he is undaunted. “Sen. Murray has always represented the special interests in Washington,” he said. “That is why she has $5 million in the bank.”
He said he has been buoyed by the reception he’s received since his announcement. “Hundreds of people came up and encouraged me” at the Olympia rally, he said.
Benton has begun laying the groundwork for his campaign by retaining the Shawmut Group, the Boston-based consulting firm that helped orchestrate Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.
He said he plans to campaign across the state, with special attention to struggling areas like Snohomish County, north of Seattle.