Washington Prowler

A Losing Republican Slade

Karl Rove hears bad news about Washington State. Plus: Howard Dean woos a splinter group.

By 4.14.03

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DUNN FOR
Conservative everywhere will have former moderate Sen. Slade Gorton to thank if the GOP loses a highly winnable Senate seat in Washington state in 2004. That's because it appears he was key in talking Rep. Jennifer Dunn out of challenging Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, considered one of the weakest Democrats running in this next election cycle.

Dunn phoned Presidential counselor Karl Rove last week to inform him of her decision not to run. She sited a conversation she had with Gorton as a key reason for her not running. "She was telling Karl that Gorton told her to 'go with her heart,'" says a White House political staffer. "What kind of crap is that?"

Apparently the kind that Gorton slaps around, and apparently the kind that Dunn takes seriously.

To be fair to Dunn, she would have had to get moving on fundraising, but given her name recognition and leadership position in the House, cash would not have been a problem. That's particularly so, since the White House would have committed time and energy to a race it badly wants to win for several reasons.

First, Murray is weak and Washington is winnable. Second, Murray, who is one of the most liberal Senators in the Democratic caucus, headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last electoral cycle. Though her own colleagues considered her a disaster, the Bush White House likes taking on and beating those who challenge its people. It really is that competitive.

"If we can pick up Washington State, and perhaps pick up South Carolina and a couple of others, while still allowing for a loss or two, we strengthen our majority in the Senate," says a Republican National Committee staffer. "The Dunn-Murray race would have been fun to watch."

As it stands, it will most likely be the Nethercutt-Murray race. Rep. George Nethercutt has been mulling a challenge to Murray for a while, but was holding off, waiting for Dunn to make the decision. It's expected that Rove, as well as Sen. George Allen, who is running the National Republican Senatorial Committee, will sit down with Nethercutt soon to discuss the race.

Nethercutt shouldn't be dismissed as a second tier candidate or even a second choice. He's perhaps the most popular Republican in the state of Washington, with good name recognition and solid fundraising base. He's also solidly conservative.

Gorton, though, deserves a slap on the wrist for going against the desires of the White House, as well as the Senate Republican leadership, which had worked hard to recruit Dunn. Gorton, now a lobbyist for the powerhouse Preston-Gates firm, was a moderate to liberal Republican who lost to Democrat Maria Cantwell in 2000. "He wasn't a team player for us in the Senate," says the RNC staffer. "At least he's consistent."

Rove was said to be extremely disappointed by Dunn's decision.

THE VILLAGE SCENE
Former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean isn't surrendering even the smallest, most inconsequential segment of the Democratic Party to the likes of Sen. John Kerry or Sen. Joe Lieberman. That's why he could be found pressing the flesh, as it were, in Manhattan's Greenwich Village recently, and speaking at the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender Center.

Dean was welcomed enthusiastically, and seemed particularly focused on Transgender voters, mentioning them several times. "Maybe he thinks they can vote twice, depending on the timing of their transgendering, or whatever you call it," says a member of the New York Conservative Party. "It's certainly a group not many politicians anywhere look to woo."

Dean, who isn't expected to last long into the primary season, has seen his long shot presidential aspirations slide into oblivion in the aftermath of the successful Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Dean was able to raise about $500 from his speech at the center. In the same period of time, Sen. Lieberman raised $100,000.

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