Dino dithers, and Washington Republicans are getting nervous

It's amateur hour in the Dino Rossi gubernatorial campaign. But he continues to stay close to Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire in the polls and assures the inner circle that he'll run. If he gets cold feet, the GOP lacks a Plan B.
It's amateur hour in the Dino Rossi gubernatorial campaign. But he continues to stay close to Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire in the polls and assures the inner circle that he'll run. If he gets cold feet, the GOP lacks a Plan B.

As the unannounced campaign for governor by Dino Rossi continues to have bobbles, some Republicans are beginning to wonder if Rossi actually will run in 2008. "I don't think he wants to run and lose," says one Republican insider. This source is worried about the booming state economy, which will help Gov. Chris Gregoire in her reelection campaign, and the continuing drag on the party by Iraq and President Bush. This observer predicts that Rossi will take a hard look at his prospects around the turn of the year and then make a realistic decision. If Rossi decides not to run, the GOP will find it almost impossible to field a viable candidate to head the ticket. Rossi, a former state legislator from Sammamish, insists he'll make a decision at the end of 2007, and he's busy giving five or so speeches a week. Those close to him profess certainty that Rossi, who narrowly lost the race for governor in 2004, is going to run again. As for the bobbles – particularly Rossi's strange fondness for the political advice of Lou Guzzo, a diehard anti-environmentalist – that's chalked up to the inattention of Rossi's inner circle of advisers, who probably won't pay much attention to the race until this Fall. The risk is that Rossi's amateurish campaign will make a serious mistake, one that might get caught on a camera and live long on YouTube. On the face of it, Rossi still looks like a strong challenger. He's holding Gregoire to below 50 percent in the polls and lags her by only 47-43, according to one. (Given how unpopular President Bush has become, you would think that Rossi would be sinking in the polls.) The state's economic success does not seem to be translating into a lift for Gregoire in the polls, and Rossi's two key issues (state government is on the wrong track to runaway spending, and 24 years of Democrats in the governor's mansion is long enough) both continue to resonate with voters. As a key potential victory for Republicans in 2008, Rossi will get a lot of national Republican support. And he still seems to win the likability sweepstakes that both enables him to hold together a divided party and score points over the less-genial Gregoire. The key difference in this coming race, however, is that Gregoire's campaign won't underestimate Rossi, as they did in 2004. That means the Democrats will go on the attack almost as soon as Rossi declares, raising alarms about his faith (he's Catholic) and closely examining his practices as a landlord. Gregoire is also racking up a big lead in fundraising. Another fear is that the national GOP will nominate a presidential candidate such as Mitt Romney, a mainstream Republican, who would be inclined to write off West Coast states, depressing Republican excitement in Washington. A more eccentric GOP presidential candidate might split the support in this state. If Rossi were to decide not to run, where could the GOP turn? The most plausible candidate would be Attorney General Rob McKenna, but he has already looked at the race and decided not to make it this time, in part because he is excited about his job and wants to build more stature. John Stanton, the wireless-industry executive, continues to dodge overtures, saying he wouldn't consider a governor's race until 2012, if then. U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn has told some friends that he'd like to be governor, but he seems to be warming to his congressional job, and he would be woefully overmatched on issues in a statewide race. Mike McGavick, who badly lost the 2006 Senate race to Maria Cantwell, seems to need time to lick his wounds. Secretary of State Sam Reed has become anathema to many in his party for his role in supervising the recount of the super-close Rossi-Gregoire election in 2004, when many Republicans felt Reed was bending so far over backwards not to favor his party that he tilted the election to Gregoire. Susan Hutchison, the former KIRO-TV anchor, had set her sights on being a U.S. senator and has shown no interest in the governor's mansion. Given the timing, it's hard to imagine that Rossi, even if he wanted to dodge the race, could do so. Faced with another wipeout election, GOP elders would put enormous pressure on him to head the ticket. If the Republicans put up one more sacrificial or fringe candidate for governor, they will really be confronting a permanent minority status for a decade or longer. It's Dino-or-die time.


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