Democrats may be paying Dino Rossi the ultimate compliment.
The guy is not a candidate against Patty Murray -- not yet, anyway, and possibly not never -- and yet they are going after him hammer and tong. Or more accurately, Web site and Twitter.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been working diligently to trash Rossi ever since his name surfaced as a measurable marker against Murray in some GOP polls. They may be taking these polls more seriously than Rossi himself, who appears content to let folks speculate by uttering the standard "in politics you never say never" line to questions about a run.
The polling numbers that make Rossi a viable candidate have to be taken with a certain degree of caution. The Republicans, see, have 11 candidates elbowing each other to take on the three-term incumbent, but not one of them has statewide name ID that makes a head-to-head comparison worth the price of the poll. Clint Didier might poll well with sports fans, Don Benton with legislative political junkies, and a few of the others with GOP faithful who have caught their acts at the odd Republican luncheon or Lincoln Day dinner and liked what they saw.
But none has a name that makes the average Joe or Joan say, "Yeah. Heard of him. Give ya my opinion. How much time ya got?" The gaggle that is Paul Akers, William Chovil, Arthur Coday, Daniel LeBlanc, James Mercer, Rodney Rieger, Sean Salazar, Chris Widener, Craig Williams, Benton and Didier may be enough for a soccer team, but not worth 11 separate questions that start, "If the election were held tomorrow for U.S. Senate, would you vote for Patty Murray or ...?
Rossi, however, has statewide name ID, and candidate cred. True, with Democrats his name ID includes "ltwo-time loser for governor." But with Republicans and some independents, it's more like "won once and was robbed; lost in the rematch."
It's no surprise that Rossi's name comes up whenever Republicans look at the not so magnificent 11 and say "Could be a huuuuuge GOP year, if only..."
But for Democrats to be drawn into this "run Dino run" game is both bizarre and risky. Bizarre because it's difficult for the public and even the political cogniscenti to devote much time to Rossi's possible run until he does more than travel to Washington, D.C., and talk with a few Republican bigwigs. In 2006, when Rossi's star was high in the sky as the man wronged by King County electoral perfidity and tricky lawyers, Dino could've run against freshman Maria Cantwell. Instead, he helped talk Mike McGavick into the race, and said repeatedly that the issues close to his heart were in this Washington, not that Washington. This was before he was technically planning the 2008 rematch, wink-wink, but campaigning with McGavick didn't hurt anything that might be happening.
He could run against Murray -- anything's possible, even if not plausible -- but it's the DSCC pushing him insto the status of GOP frontrunner by putting up the phony Dino Web site. Earlier in the week, the committee, which has "senatorial" in its name even though it is acting anything but, was shopping some "new" information on Rossi which amounted to recycled stories from past gubernatorial campaigns. Some of that got repurposed for the faux DinoWeb site, accusing him of associating with bad characters, miscreants and political lepers. Probably just coincidence it was launched on April Fool's Day.
The risk for the DSCC is that
low-grade discussions of these old incidents could have the same result
as getting a weakened strain of flu virus. Should Rossi decide to run,
it could inocculate him against them at the start of a real campaign,
allowing him to say "that old stuff? It's been drug up again and again,
and there's nothing to it.
This whole strategy could make a person wonder if the DSCC has too much money and time on their hands. The first part of that hypothesis can't be true, obviously, because Sens. John Kerry and Dick Durbin had each sent out appeals in the last 48 hours in an effort to get bucks flowing into the committee's coffers. So the only other conclusion seems to be they're so worried that Murray can't beat Rossi in the fall that they need a pre-emptive strike in the spring.
Usually it's the Republicans who underestimate Murray's electability.