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Democrats surprisingly uneasy about Murray

OLYMPIA – Democrats may be paying Dino Rossi the ultimate compliment. He is not a candidate against Patty Murray – not yet, anyway, and possibly not ever – but they are going after him hammer and tong. Or more accurately, Web site and Twitter.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has worked 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 overused “never say never” line to questions about a run.

The polling numbers that show Rossi a viable candidate should be viewed with a certain degree of caution. Republicans have 11 announced candidates elbowing each other to take on a three-term incumbent, but the gaggle of Paul Akers, Don Benton, William Chovil, Arthur Coday, Clint Didier, Daniel LeBlanc, James Mercer, Rodney Rieger, Sean Salazar, Chris Widener and Craig Williams isn’t worth separate questions that start, “If the election were held tomorrow for U.S. Senate, would you vote for Patty Murray or …” Be honest: How many do you recognize?

Rossi, however, has statewide name ID and candidate cred. True, with Democrats the ID includes “two-time loser for governor.” But with Republicans and some independents, it’s more like “won once but was robbed; lost a tough rematch.” That makes him a convenient yardstick when Republicans look at the not-so-magnificent 11 and say “Could be a huge GOP year, if only …”

For Democrats to be drawn into this “run Dino run” game is bizarre and risky – bizarre because it’s difficult for even the political cognoscenti to devote much time to a possible Rossi 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 at his apex as the man wronged by King County electoral treachery, he could’ve run against freshman Maria Cantwell if he coveted a Senate seat. Instead, he helped talk Mike McGavick into the race and said repeatedly the issues close to his heart were in this Washington, not that Washington. This was before he was technically planning the 2008 gubernatorial rematch, wink-wink, but campaigning with McGavick didn’t hurt anything that might happen.

He could run against Murray – anything’s possible if not yet plausible – but it’s the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) pushing hardest to make him the front-runner with their phony campaign Web site. Earlier in the week, the committee was shopping some “new” information on Rossi, which amounted to recycled stories from past gubernatorial campaigns. Some of that got repurposed for the faux Dino Web site, accusing him of associating with bad characters, miscreants and political lepers. Probably just coincidence it 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 injected with a weakened strain of flu virus. Should Rossi decide to run, it could inoculate 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.”

The strategy also makes one wonder if the DSCC is so worried that Murray can’t beat Rossi in the fall that it needs a pre-emptive strike in the spring.

Usually it’s Republicans who underestimate Murray’s electability.

Spin Control, a weekly column by veteran political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at spincontrol.
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