Spokane, Washington (CNN) - It may not have been the marquee Senate debate of Thursday night – that one took place in Nevada – but the clash in Washington between Sen. Patty Murray and her Republican challenger Dino Rossi was another study in contrasts highlighted by sharply different visions of President Obama's record.
Seated next to Murray in a Spokane television studio for the first of two debates, Rossi worked overtime to portray the three-term incumbent as beholden to the president's agenda by voting in favor of the health care reform bill, the stimulus package and financial regulatory reform.
Eager to tap into concerns about the economy and the national Republican tailwind, Rossi painted a picture of "extreme partisanship in Washington, D.C. that has really taken us in the wrong direction and down the wrong path."
Murray, he claimed, "has been at the epicenter of partisanship in Washington D.C."
Rossi ticked through Murray's many big government offenses: The Senator wants to "punish" high-earning Americans by rolling back the Bush tax cuts. The health care reform bill is "killing jobs" with tax increases and will ultimately "bankrupt" America. The $814 billion stimulus package, which Murray supported, should be abandoned.
"We have an 18-year incumbent that is killing jobs in the state of Washington in vote after vote after vote, on health care financial reform and others," he said.
Speaking to reporters after the forum, Rossi even seemed miffed that he wasn't given enough of an opportunity by the debate's moderators to hammer home his anti-D.C. message.
"We didn't get asked any questions about bailouts or financial reform or earmarks or anything like that, but we had a number of other questions that were more localized over here in eastern Washington," he said.
But Murray hardly ran from the national Democratic agenda. Instead, she doubled down on it.
Asked if she had read the entire 2,400-page health care bill, Murray shot back: "Not only did I read it, but I helped to write it."
And when Rossi called for an end to stimulus spending, Murray said the bill is currently employing nearly 3,000 workers at the Hanford Site, a nuclear cleanup facility in eastern Washington.
There were times when Murray carefully distanced herself from Capitol Hill, calling herself "a tough mom when it comes to our budget" and saying she returns home every weekend to listen to constituents.
Asked after the debate about her full-throated embrace of the health care bill, Murray took a moment to say she has heard some concerns about the legislation from voters.
"I am already hearing from a number of businesses who are telling us that one of the forms that is required is over-burdensome, and I've already voted to try and change that," she said, before stressing that she's heard more positive reactions to the bill than negative.
Murray told reporters that she is "delighted" President Obama is coming to campaign for her next week because "he does a great job outlining what's at stake in this election."
The dueling strategies on display Thursday reflected the broader shape of the race: with most voters having already lined up behind either Rossi or Murray, it's now time for each campaign to rally their base supporters.
In a CNN/TIME/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Wednesday, Murray was ahead Rossi by a 51-43 margin among likely voters. Just 3 percent of voters were undecided.