Former, two-time Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi is playing coy about whether he plans to challenge Patty Murray for the U.S. Senate. Rossi told me recently that he'll make his decision "between now and June 11th at 4:59 pm." That's the filing deadline for candidates.
Democrats clearly think it's enough of a possibility to do opposition research on him. And Rossi has been traveling the state speaking to Republican gatherings and otherwise, quietly, firing up the base.
My money says he runs. After all, what does Rossi have to lose? Sure, he could end up a three-time loser. But three-times could also be the charm. And it's not like he'd be embarking upon another marathon campaign. This would be a sprint to the finish.
The conventional wisdom would suggest Rossi has waited too long and doesn't have enough time — there are just six months left until Election Day — to mount a robust campaign. But if any candidate could mount a serious campaign in this short amount of time, it's Rossi.
He's got all the benefits of having run two recent statewide races (in 2004 and 2008) — including excellent name ID and an up-to-date Rolodex of donors. Plus, no doubt, the promise of help from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is itching to pick off a top Democratic leader like Murray. The NRSC's homepage even features Murray's "mug" on its homepage. Last month, Rossi did NRSC rounds in D.C.
Add in the fact that several polls show Rossi and Murray in a statistical dead heat. Not to mention the political tea leaves suggest a 1994-style voter tempest is brewing nationally. In other words, if there was ever a year for a Republican to take on a powerful Democratic incumbent like Murray, 2010 is the year.
Not to say Murray won't ultimately prevail. But Democrats are clearly concerned about the Rossi threat. According to this story from Hotline OnCall, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is already doing opposition research on Rossi:
"The party committee recently dispatched a team of researchers to WA, where they scoured public information for details on ex-state Sen. Dino Rossi's (R) involvement in a real estate investment company, a source with knowledge of the research project tells Hotline OnCall."
Rossi's lack of a decision — or at least a public decision — is visibly frustrating other Republican candidates for the Murray seat. State Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver says the GOP can't afford to wait another day: "Waiting for anybody, including my good friend Dino — and he is my good friend — is tantamount to helping the incumbent retain the seat because you lose momentum and effort."
Benton says he had a recent conversation with Rossi during which he said: "If you're going into the race, please do so, and if you're not, please say so. But indecision hurts all of us, even you."
Rossi bristles at the suggestion that he owes anyone an answer today. "I'm going to do it on my family's timeframe," he says.
A slightly different version of this story appeared earlier on Jenkin's blog, WALedge.com.