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Poll gives Rossi good and bad news

Washington voters are worried about the economy and unhappy with the jobs their elected leaders are doing, a new statewide survey says, and the U.S. Senate race on the November ballot is close to a dead heat.

But for Republican Dino Rossi, expected to enter the race against three-term incumbent Patty Murray this week, the latest Washington Poll has good news and bad. Only half the voters surveyed are happy with the job Murray is doing, and less than half say right now they plan to vote for her in November.

“At this point, Murray doesn’t have much of an edge at all,” said Matt Barreto, an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington and director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality.

But even though Rossi ran in two statewide races in the last six years, the former legislator and King County businessman polls almost exactly the same against Murray as a generic Republican candidate, Barreto said. “You usually see a named candidate do better. He doesn’t necessarily have a great base of support waiting for him to get in.”

Because he’s so well known, some voters may view Rossi as something akin to an incumbent at this point, Barreto said. Not necessarily good in a year when “voters are looking for fresh ideas,” he added.

Although he’s been mentioned as a possible candidate for months, Rossi has not yet joined a dozen other Republicans looking to oust Murray. But he has begun hiring a campaign staff, and some published reports quote unnamed sources predicting he’ll announce Wednesday.

In the statewide poll of more than 1,200 voters, nearly two-thirds said they thought the most important issue in this year’s elections are the economy and jobs. At 62 percent, that answer dwarfed the No. 2 concern – health care reform, mentioned by 27 percent – and was double the percent that listed jobs and the economy in a similar poll eight months ago.

By a slight margin, voters were more likely to say Washington was “seriously on the wrong track” than “going in the right direction.” Asked to rate the jobs of some of their elected officials and institutions, 58 percent said they approved of President Barack Obama’s job performance, but only 30 percent approved of the job Congress is doing. Forty-four percent approved of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s job performance, compared with 47 percent who disapproved; while 36 percent approved and 43 percent disapproved of the Legislature’s job performance.

Although the Legislature raised taxes on candy, beer, cigarettes and bottled water in the last session, that may not be the voters’ chief complaint; 49 percent say they approve of those taxes. More rankling may have been the move by majority Democrats to suspend the two-thirds majority needed for tax increases, which voters passed by an initiative. Three out of five voters said they approve of supermajorities to raise taxes.

That’s about the same percentage that expressed some degree of support for a proposal that would place a state income tax on people who make more than $200,000 a year.

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