Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi
is starting to pay the price for his late entry into the 2008 race: Gov. Chris Gregoire has been able to broom up early big-business support, including donors who were with Rossi in the 2004 race. The Seattle Times
has a good early roundup
Among those defecting are Colin Moseley, former chair of the Washington Roundtable (leading state CEOs), Phil Bussey, former Roundtable president and Puget Sound Energy executive, and Cheri Marusa, Cle Elum small business owner recently recruited to Gregoire's Governor's Eastern Washington Advisory Council.
A little context here. It's only prudent for beneficiaries of government programs to give generously to sitting governors, and there's plenty of time, if the race proves close, to cover your bets by also contributing to Rossi. Nothing gladdens the heart of a powerful incumbent more than an early donation. Nor is it likely that Rossi will have much trouble raising money, particularly as this is a key national race for Republicans. One advantage he'll soon enjoy is that he can merrily raise money during the coming legislative session, when Gregoire as an officeholder is precluded from holding fundraisers.
The Democratic Party in this state has been successfully courting big business for the past decade, making the valid argument that the Republicans seemed so bent on nominating fringe candidates for both governor and the Legislature that they had taken themselves out of the power game among major players like Microsoft.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, a Seattle Democrat, has added to the centrist drift, recruiting and electing suburban and moderate Democrats from the Eastside, other swing suburban districts, and Eastern Washington. Chopp Democrats eschew divisive social issues such as gun control and abortion, react with horror at the thought of raising taxes, and deliver the goods to major business interests. "No hard votes, please. We're busy with the next election!"
Gregoire and Chopp are sending another conservative signal this year as they rush to ratify Tim Eyman's I-747, a 1 percent annual lid on property taxes, awkwardly voided by the state Supreme Court. Being low-tax, high-benefit has been easy during these years of surplus, with Olympia's coffers overflowing. Lobbyists at the last session of the Legislature were amazed at how much money was being passed around. All that generosity can buy a lot of love at campaign time.
Eventually, Rossi's team
will apply a powerful argument to its normal Republican donors. Go ahead and reward Gregoire and the Democrats for services received, but then reflect on the fact that if Rossi does not win, the state Republican Party is pretty much doomed to a decade of irrelevance. If that happens, and the economy sours, how long will a permanent Democratic majority remain tax-averse and regulation-wary?
Given Chopp's successful strategy of building a legislative majority by finding Democrats who keep their distance from Seattle liberalism, the Republicans will soon be so far down in minority party-land that they will be unable to recruit quality candidates. The last and only hope for avoiding this downward spiral is a Republican governor, who can rebuild the party from the top down. (The other showdown battle will be Attorney General Rob McKenna's race against likely Democratic challenger John Ladenburg, the term-limited Pierce County Executive. More than any other Republican, McKenna currently holds the party together.)
Similarly, the national GOP will be desperate for some counter-indications of a Republican revival, amid all the bloodshed from the Bush years. They will send out the troops and the national contributions to Washington state if the Rossi race looks viable; more so, if there's a presidential candidate who has some strength in the Northwest, such as Rudy Giuliani or John McCain.
Already Congressional Republicans are retiring in droves. Just today, Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, the second-ranking Republican, said he was calling it quits. Last week the number of House Republicans announcing their retirement hit 18, compared with four departing Democrats.
"Do or die" usually loosens wallets.