If this isn’t the twice-defeated Dino Rossi’s year in Washington state, it’s because he’s running scarred.
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Rossi has hit Murray on everything from pork barreling to nuclear waste disposal in the Yucca Mountains to unemployment benefit extensions that weren’t deficit neutral to the financial reform bill. “Like Good Friends Do, Patty Murray and Wall Street Take Care of Each Other,” Rossi’s press release helpfully explained.
ROSSI WANTS VOTERS TO FOCUS on Murray’s failings and foibles, and that might be enough to win him the election. Murray has, of course, a very liberal voting record, along with a few other possible liabilities. She has been in D.C. since she won election as the “mom in tennis shoes” in 1992. Her image has changed from citizen legislator to self-interested insider. The normally sympathetic Seattle Times reported in August that Murray, who has a seat on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is the senator who has racked up the second-highest amount in contributions from lobbyists. She came behind only embattled Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid.
To beat Murray, though, Rossi may have to address some lingering questions from Republicans, or at least find ways to make them go away. Rossi points out that as chairman of the Washington State senate’s ways and means committee, he managed to close a $2.7 billion budget deficit without raising taxes. He also demonstrated a fondness for certain pork projects that benefited his suburban district east of Seattle. That might not matter except that he’d inherit a much bigger fiscal hole in D.C. than anyone in Olympia could ever comprehend. Some serious radicalism will probably be necessary if the next Congress wants to start climbing out. Republican voters are suspicious that his tendency to trim won’t help.
Speaking of radicalism, primary challenger Didier has refused to endorse Rossi unless Rossi meets three demands. The most controversial is that he must introduce the Sanctity of Life Act in the Senate, which would allow local jurisdictions to regulate abortion quite apart from any Supreme Court rulings.
Rossi, a Catholic father of four (and the youngest of seven children), understands just how volatile the question can be with the Evergreen State electorate. He is a genuine social conservative — he’s called himself pro-life in the past, supported parental consent laws, and opposed gay marriage — but he prefers not to talk about it unless absolutely necessary, and maybe not even then. When I asked him when was the last time Washington voters elected a pro-life senator, he would say only, “I’m not really sure about that. You’d have to go research that yourself.” (Answer: never.)
IF ROSSI CAN GET most Republicans on board, then he has a better-than-even shot at beating Murray in November. The anti-incumbent and anti-Democratic mood in the Washington electorate is as severe as I’ve ever seen it. In Whatcom County, in the northwest corner of the state, my friend Vincent Buys, a Republican contractor and first-time office-seeker, managed to best an eight-term incumbent and state House ways and means chairwoman in the primary vote. However, that still leaves the general election.
The sense that one gets from talking to Rossi is that he feels this is a contest he cannot afford to lose. He really thinks that he can pull it off, and that his win will have historic consequences. A recent ad for a joint campaign appearance with surprise Massachusetts senator Scott Brown simply said, “Scott Brown-41, Dino Rossi-51.” And what if that doesn’t work out?
“It’s clear that we’re at a crisis level right now,” Rossi told me. “People understand that our country has a serious problem here that needs to be dealt with: the spending and the debt. We’re about ready to leave to our children something that’s less than what our parents gave to us, and that’s unconscionable. The opportunities are dwindling, and the debt and the problems are what our children are going to inherit. That’s not acceptable.” Time to do something about it.
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