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.”

 

Opinion: What’s Italy’s front runner for prime minister really up to?

 

Editor’s Note: Francesco Galietti is the founder of Policy Sonar, a Rome-based political risk consultancy. He has held senior posts with Italian public institutions including the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Galietti is a columnist with the Italian current affairs magazine Panorama. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.

I am often asked what Giorgia Meloni – leader of the national conservative Brothers of Italy party, and likely next prime minister of the country – is really up to.

What comparables should we be looking at? Hungary, Poland, Brazil and even the United Kingdom (not to mention the United States under Donald Trump) are all countries where the “destra” or “right wing” seized power at least in part on the back of nationalist sentiment.

But 45-year-old Meloni, who is the favorite to become Italy’s youngest and first female prime minister in Sunday’s election, does not fit into neat definitions. Her meteoric rise is perhaps best described as an audacious balancing exercise.

On the one hand, Meloni has attempted to brush away the post-fascist aura of her party, whose past includespolitical operators who were self-admittedly fascist or felt nostalgic about Benito Mussolini. On the other hand, she has been blowing kisses to capital markets, pledging to stick to the fiscal discipline and European Union budget rules of outgoing prime minister and staunch Euro-Atlanticist, Mario Draghi.

Italy’s president dissolves parliament, triggering snap election following Draghi’s resignation

Despite her young age, Meloni has been in politics for quite some time. In 2008, she got her baptism of fire, serving as minister of youth under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The cabinet position she held back then was a relatively minor one, but the consensus was that Meloni was being groomed for power.

At the time, I was a young consigliere at the Italian Treasury, and I felt that perhaps there was more to Meloni. She looked as if she had literally consecrated her life to politics; it seemedmore a vocation for her, a calling, than a profession. Because of this, she did not strike me at all as another prot?g? of a party leader trying her hand at government.

Years later, in 2021, Meloni’s autobiography came out. I rushed to buy a copy. In vivid detail, the book explains how painful Meloni’s youth was, and how important it was for her to become a party militant. Meloni’s father had abandoned both her and her sister Arianna, and the right-wing Italian Social Movement filled this gap. (She later helped found the breakaway political movement Brothers of Italy).

Learning about Meloni’s upbringing, I thought that my earlier impressions were somewhat confirmed: The trauma of a lost father put Meloni on a mission to seek a sense of purpose. All of a sudden, Meloni looked like Bruce Wayne, who embarked on a journey to become Batman after his parents’ assassination. And yet, Batman is a vigilante who sets out to rid the streets of Gotham City of its many villains, whereas Meloni flirted several times with the idea of becoming the mayor of her city, Rome, but never actually went for it.

The trauma of a lost father put Meloni on a mission to seek a sense of purpose.

Francesco Galietti

In 2016, Meloni first threw her hat into the ring but eventually pulled out from the mayoral race. In 2021, Meloni again did not step up, instead backing right-wing candidate Enrico Michetti, who lost out to Roberto Gualtieri of the center-left Democratic Party. It is generally assumed that if Meloni herself had run in the 2021 race, the chances of success of the right would have been very high. So why then hasn’t she gone for it? After all, Rome isn’t like any other Italian municipality and enjoys global visibility like few other cities in the world. Did Meloni deliberately decide to “sacrifice” Rome to play the long game?

There is little doubt that Meloni’s rise in polls reflects widespread disgruntlement and protest votes, which in Italy we have seen at least since 2013. In fact, this was already the case with anti-establishment parties such as the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s League of recent years. Not unlike them, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party has risen very quickly in the polls, from single-digit levels to around 25%.

Meloni’s timing looks better than previous upstarts. In fact, if one considers the overall conditions of Italy’s right these days, Berlusconi, who will turn 86next week, is not going to play in the sandbox for much longer. Moreover, Salvini’s limits are clear and his “pivot to Russia” stance have made him politically radioactive, after PresidentVladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This means that Meloni cannot only dream of becoming Italy’s first female prime minister – but also of consolidating Italy’s conservative bloc.

Far-right Italian leader criticized for posting rape video

Both tasks will probably require keeping moderates on board, and bringing in new ones. Just how serious is Meloni about all this? Meloni is still actively using her nativist, anti-woke storytelling repertoire. She also rallied to populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s side earlier this month, when the European Parliament voted to denounce the “existence of a clear risk of a serious breach” by Hungary of core EU values.

But Meloni also isn’t afraid of normalizing her party, and she could follow the example of her former boss and mentor Gianfranco Fini. In 2003, Fini chose to normalize his party’s relations with Israel and made a highly symbolic visit there. Arguably, back in the day, this move was not received well by some of Fini’s supporters. And yet, it changed the party’s perception for good.

Today, Meloni routinely describes Moscow’s invasion as an “unacceptable large-scale act of war by Putin’s Russia against Ukraine,” and advocates sending weapons to the government in Kyiv. Indeed, with the wind in her sails, Meloni is messaging a larger public, both to woo potential voters and to calm eventual critics. In fact, she knows that without a strong Atlanticist stance it would be impossible for her party to run the country these days. Meloni, moreover, seems to have a flowing dialogue with the outgoing prime minister and hugely respected former president of the European Central Bank, to the point where we have already seen insinuations that Draghi has become Meloni’s own “leadership coach” and guarantor.

Of course, as is often the case with Italian politicians who are touted for top jobs, Meloni is quite the charmer – so many are convinced they have an “exclusive” dialogue with her. Draghi-ites are confident that, given the chaos around Italy, they have Meloni’s ear, and that this will be the case for some time.

Get our free weekly newsletter

Sign up for CNN Opinion’s newsletter.Join us on Twitter and Facebook

And yet, Steve Bannon, the global alt-right guru, also regularly chats with Meloni. In an effort to help Meloni tell her story, Bannon just rolled out an unprecedented Italian franchise of his “War Room” show. Inevitably, this warrants the question: Who is the real Meloni? Is she the responsible party leader who has been on an evolutionary path to morph Brothers of Italy into a post-populist party, or Viktor Orban’s friend in Rome? Only time will tell.

.