Is Washington state about to go the way of Florida and Kentucky? There’s a battle brewing now that Republican Dino Rossi has officially jumped into what was already a crowded primary field to challenge Sen. Patty Murray (D) this fall. Rossi is up against a tea partier backed by Sarah Palin and several others who don’t want to make way for the D.C. favorite, who announced his candidacy this morning.
The national Republican establishment has gone all out to court Rossi, with NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn telling reporters recently that Rossi is “exactly the kind” of candidate that could beat Murray and do well in competitive races. Cornyn (R-TX) said last month that Rossi can beat Murray, adding that the new candidate can help “rebuild the Republican brand nationally.” He said the NRSC would “do whatever it takes to help him.” Sound familiar? As we’ve written, Cornyn has been a bit regretful about backing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist early in the primary, saying he had no way of knowing Marco Rubio would wipe away Crist’s hopes of being the GOP nominee. In Kentucky, Cornyn didn’t officially back Rand Paul, but it was clear that D.C. preferred Trey Grayson to the tea party favorite.
The TPM Poll Average of a race pitting Murray against Rossi has the senator leading him 45.5 to 40.6. percent.Last week Palin endorsed Clint Didier, a former Redskins and Packers tight end and tea party favorite. And Didier hasn’t been shy about bashing the establishment pick.
In a statement Didier laid it all out there saying he will not be quitting:
I don’t know Dino Rossi personally. But I do know he is part of the Republican establishment – all you have to do is look at those he surrounds himself with. I don’t believe he’s the conservative people think he is.
If people want more of the same, the McCain or Bush type of governing, then they can support Dino. If they want the change they missed the last time, then they can support me.
Then there’s state Sen. Don Benton, among those who were grumbling that Rossi took so long to enter the race. Not to mention GOP candidates Paul Akers (a self-funder who will stay in the race) and Sean Salazar.
A conservative blogger lamented recently that Rossi’s delay might hurt the party. Writes Tom Forbes:
This is exactly why I wanted Dino to jump in the race earlier, as it seems likely he will do very soon. Candidates such as Paul Akers and Clint Didier are outside the establishment, have little to lose, are well-established and deeply invested in the race now, and will therefore not quit, whereas they might have back in January or February. Republicans in the state are already badly fractured. The last thing we need is a bitter primary.
Pierce County Tea Party member Lawrence Hutt told the News Tribune he’s no Rossi fan:
“Rossi is too establishment to get the tea partiers all fired up,” said Hutt, a paralegal from Wauna. “He’s not going to fan the flames of any tea partiers I know.”
But Washington’s top-two primary, in which the top two vote-getters advance regardless of party, means a GOP candidate doesn’t have to depend on the party’s base to compete in November.
The discomfort about Rossi’s ties to the establishment GOP could explain this report in Politico suggesting Rossi will be hiring one of Rubio’s top campaign aides.
Perhaps having learned a lesson from Florida and Kentucky (not to mention the raging battle in Nevada), the NRSC’s statement this morning pointedly praises Rossi as “another qualified Republican candidate.”
“No matter who the voters ultimately select as their Republican nominee in August, we are confident that Washingtonians will hold Patty Murray accountable for her long record fighting for higher taxes and out-of-control spending during her 18 years in D.C.,” an NRSC spokeswoman said.
The DSCC is salivating to exploit intraparty Republican warfare, but is obviously focused on Rossi as the candidate to take down. They’ve been steering reporters toward Rossi’s business dealings. J.B. Poersch, the DSCC’s executive director, issued a memo today highlighting Rossi’s role in a real estate firm and bank, and noting that he “headlined a foreclosure conference while also profiting on foreclosed property.”