While the parties are focused on tough primaries around the country, in Washington State the general election is underway. Sen. Patty Murray (D) is probably a lock for reelection in November — if she can keep former GOP gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi from getting in the race, that is.
Rossi has hinted for a while that he might take on Murray, a three-term incumbent who won her last election in 2004 by 12 points. Though there are other Republicans in the race, they haven’t raised much money and aren’t viewed as serious threats by most observers. But Rossi — who knows how to raise cash by the truckload and came within less than 200 votes of becoming governor in 2004 — could pose serious danger to Murray’s reelection chances.
That’s why Democrats in Washington state and Washington, D.C. have been targeting him for weeks, hoping to scare him out of the race the way Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) campaign say they did with former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who presented the only serious threat to Feingold’s reelection chances. Will it work? Rossi’s still flirting with a bid, but no one knows for sure yet.
Democrats aren’t waiting around. The state party is already trying to take him down with email campaigns and a micro-site on their webpage calling Rossi out for, in their language, “committing assault on Washington’s families.” The national party is targeting Rossi, too — the Hotline reported last week that the DSCC has begun ramping up an opposition research operation into his past as a real estate investor.
How serious a threat is Rossi? The TPM Poll Average of a potential Ross-Murray matchup shows Rossi ahead by a margin of 50.0-43.8.
But the public polling might not paint an accurate picture of the race — after an April 22 SurveyUSA poll showed Rossi ahead by 10, KING5-TV reported that “neither camp is buying it, at least not publicly.” A Rossi official told the station that “internal and public polling shows Murray has the advantage.”
Regardless of the polling, national Republicans are bullish on the possibility of a Rossi run. They think they’re on a roll since Sen. Scott Brown’s surprising upset in the race to replace Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts and say they Rossi makes all the difference between winning and losing in Washington. “Republicans are on offense in nine seats — 10 if Rossi gets in,” a Republican source told MSNBC’s First Read blog.
At a breakfast meeting this morning, NRSC chair John Cornyn said essentially the same thing.
“I’m convinced he can,” Cornyn said when asked if Rossi can defeat Murray. “Dino Rossi is exactly the kind of person that I think we need as we rebuild the Republican brand nationally. He’s an authentic fiscal conservative. I’m hopeful he’ll pull the trigger and we’ll do whatever it takes to help him.”
How much trouble is Murray in? She crushed her 2004 opponent, Rep. George Nethercutt, 55%-43%. But 2004 is not 2010, and Washington has a history of being on the front lines of a Republican Revolution. In 1994, Nethercutt ascended to the House after dramatically defeating then-House Speaker Tom Foley (D) as the GOP swept into control of the Congress.
Nethercutt, as the legend goes, was outspent by 2-1 in that race, and he went on to be the first person to defeat a sitting House Speaker since the 1860s. Rossi would probably not be outspent by quite as much — Murray has a respectable $5.9 million in the bank, but Rossi has the fundraising resources from his gubernatorial runs to make a dent in that lead without too much trouble.
So, for Democrats in Washington state, June 11 — the day candidate filing closes in the state — might just be the new November 2. If that day passes without Rossi entering the race, Murray will likely have smooth sailing ahead to November.
Additional reporting by Christina Bellantoni