SEATTLE – Dino Rossi tiptoed up to the starting line for a run for the U.S. Senate Friday evening, telling a crowd of fellow Republicans the nation was at a crossroads with mounting debt and a potential loss of freedoms.
He didn’t actually get into the starting blocks, but he seemed to have his track spikes laced up.
“Either we are going to restore the free enterprise ideals that made this country great, or we’re going to become France, or worse, Greece,” Rossi told the Mainstream Republicans annual conference.
He split his criticism between Olympia and Washington, D.C., blasting legislative Democrats for removing the supermajority needed to raise taxes, then passing an array of taxes.
“Every time they raise taxes, they take it from the wealth-creating, job-creating sector of the economy,” he said. “This time bomb clearly needs to be defused.”
A former state senator who has run twice for governor, Rossi said he wasn’t thinking about the U.S. Senate race six months ago. He told the gathering of what some people call the moderate or establishment wing of the party that he expected to make a decision on whether to enter the U.S. Senate race against three-term Democratic incumbent Patty Murray “soon, very soon.”
“If we do this again, I’m going to need you again,” he told a crowd of about 150 activists and candidates for other offices.
“It’s impossible for me to have heard that speech and not think he’s in,” said Alex Hays, executive director of the Mainstream Republicans and a supporter of one of the other candidates, state Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver.
In a brief interview before his speech, Rossi said he planned to talk with his family over the weekend and wouldn’t run unless all of them supported it. His youngest son, who is 9, has thus far been against it. But he told the crowd his wife assured him “if you’re willing to do it, I’m 100 percent behind you.”
He said he had to be sure the people he needed to run a campaign were available.
“All the pieces have to fall into place,” he said. “I’m certainly looking at it. You’re not in it until you raise your hand and say you are.”
Rossi shrugged off any suggestions that he was ceding tea party support to Clint Didier, who is courting those activists and received online support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: “I’ve got tea party people calling me, offering their support.”
His refusal to say whether he’s running has left many Republicans playing a guessing game.
Craig Williams, one of 10 Republicans who is in the race and who was also at the Mainstream event, said he didn’t think Rossi would get into the race. The issues the former state senator cares about are in Washington state, not Washington, D.C., he said.
State Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla said he believed Rossi would enter the race.
Campaign staffers from the national Republican organizations are starting to move into the state after finishing work on contested primaries in the East and South, Hewitt said.
Asked when it would be too late for Rossi to make his decision, Hewitt replied: “June 11, after filing’s closed.”
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