Former Washington state Sen. Dino Rossi, twice a candidate for governor, is running for the U.S. Senate.
I wouldn't call
him that, but the Republican candidate for governor has no need to run to the right to beat Christine Gregoire. Just as he did in the election cliffhanger of 2004, he can present himself as a comparatively moderate candidate, one in touch with the state's mainstream aspirations. He's starting to do that.
Take a look at his long anticipated transportation laundry list
. It's road heavy — that's to be expected of an Eastside businessman who made his living in real estate — but it also contains proposals that add a green tinge to his agenda: He suggests converting the state vehicle fleet to hybrids and plug-ins by 2015, eliminating the sales tax on such vehicles to give consumers an incentive to switch, and spending $200 million to fix WSDOT culverts that block salmon runs. He's also tossed in an idea that Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels should like: He supports replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel.
While hardcore Seattle greens will be unhappy with Rossi's roadcentricity (he opposes regional congestion pricing, wants to widen I-405 and I-90, supports Pierce County's Cross Base highway, and is opposed to tolling the 520 before a new bridge is built), such positions put him where many central Puget Sound voters are. They want congestion relief and infrastructure improvements and are skeptical of punitive behavior modification schemes (like congestion pricing) to get them. It appeals directly to the suburban Dinocrats who almost won it for him before. You can read the full plan here
Rossi is no Dan Evans, but for moderates he'll do. Alex Hays of Mainstream Republicans of Washington is preparing for this year's Cascade Conference
, a confab in mid-May of the non-knuckledragging wing of the GOP. He's planned lively panels on hot-button topics (gay rights, immigration, global warming) and is upbeat about the prospects for statewide GOP candidates.
There's the Rossi-Gregoire replay of '04, and polls show a very tight race despite Gregoire's incumbency. Attorney General Rob McKenna looks strong, and Secretary of Sate Sam Reed seems to have avoided his biggest potential hurdle: a challenge from the right in his own party. Reed infuriated some conservatives during the gubernatorial election controversy of '04, but the rage seems to have dissipated, perhaps partly because Rossi himself hasn't blamed Reed for the fiasco. Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland seems ensconced as well — statewide incumbents are hard, but not impossible to beat. Nevertheless, the Democrats are likely to charge hard to win an office that is so important to managing the state's environment. Another good prospect for the GOP: Allan Martin, Republican candidate for state treasurer. He's the No. 2 guy in the treasurer's office and has a key bipartisan endorsement: his boss, incumbent Democrat Mike Murphy.
While 2008 is a year when many of the megatrends (the economy, sinking optimism, desire for change) seem likely to help the Democrats, with McCain the GOP presidential nominee, the state is in play
. McCain has polled well here, and his record on environmental issues is certainly greener than Bush's (but then, whose isn't?). That could help remove some ideological barriers for independent voters. With McCain likely running toward the middle or even to the left to appeal to independents in the general election, he won't be pulling Washington's GOP moderates to the right. That's good news for Dino. Alex Hays says "McCain is almost the perfect candidate for Washington state. This is the first time since 1984 the top of the ticket actually be a help."
Even Rossi's opponents agree that to the extent the race is a personality contest, he wins on charm and communication skills. Yes, he's a salesman, but one who connects. That skill alone has a tendency to moderate his image. It almost worked last time out. So far, the Democrats haven't been able to paint Dino as a scary, hardcore conservative. They'll give it the college try though, but Rossi will make it tougher for them by fronting positions that poll well and are perfectly reasonable, as evidenced by his transportation plan. He may not be Dan Evans, but he's no Ellen Craswell either.