Rossi Still Helping The Rich Profit Off Distressed Properties During Senate Campaign

June 17, 2010 1:05 p.m.

Dino Rossi is keeping his day job while he runs for Senate in Washington. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But Rossi’s day job entails very publicly helping rich people profit off the misfortune of those unlucky enough to have obtained a mortgage in the last four years or so. And that’s leaving some in Washington a little confused about his priorities.

Rossi is a former gubernatorial nominee, and national Republicans are stoked about him now that he’s decided to run for Senate against incumbent Sen. Patty Murray (D). Sticking with the job he had before he announced his candidacy, Rossi has decided stay on as the headline speaker for a series of seminars advising real estate speculators on how to profit off the collapsed mortgage market. Today, his spokeperson told Salon that he plans do more before he’s done.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Rossi thinks he can win while literally tying himself to America’s mortgage crisis on the side of the folks who are making big bucks by buying up houses foreclosed on during the mortgage crisis. It’s a strange strategy. But is it as damaging as it looks?Democrats certainly think it is. “The fact that he’s pitching how to make money off
foreclosures and how to get a great deal on an $11 million waterfront property just shows how out of touch he is,” Washington Democratic party spokesperson Anne Martens told me today. “He could have gotten out of this contract. He must have known that appearing as a slick salesman for multi-million dollar real estate speculators wasn’t going to help his campaign.”

It’s fair to say we’ll see Rossi’s seminars in Democratic campaign ads this fall (assuming he wins the chance to face Murray in the August 17 primary, which appears likely at this point according to the latest polls.) The current TPM Poll Average for a Murray-Rossi general shows the Democrat ahead by a margin of 45.3-40.6.

“We may have to look into whether the seminars should be reported as a contribution to the Democratic party,” Martens joked when I asked about future advertising plans.

Rossi spoke at one seminar during the very week he announced his candidacy. That one featured an invitation that began with this line: “With the current financial and real estate meltdown an opportunity has been created like never before in history.” The second, which took place this week, comes complete with a brochure showcasing Rossi’s smiling face next to the words “Is now the time to buy waterfront property?” The rest of the brochure (“12 Lake Washington million-dollar homes SOLD!”) suggests the answer is yes.

Not exactly the kind of advice most candidates like to dole out in the middle of a down economy.

So, what’s the deal? Neither Rossi nor the state GOP returned my calls today, but Rossi has been explaining himself in the local press, sort of. Long story short? Rossi’s campaign says he’s been under contract to hold these seminars since before he was running, and that there are more important things to talk about than this.

An independent observer, longtime non-partisan Washington State pollster Stuart Elway, says Rossi’s decision to keep appearing at these seminars is a head scratcher. In order to beat Murray, Rossi will need most of the roughly one-third of state voters who call themselves Independents in Elway’s polling (Washington has no voter registration, so he asks his respondents to self-identify). Elway said talking about the profitable side of the housing crisis is likely not the way to do it.

“Clearly it would resonate mostly with who you think of as Republicans, but he’s sort of got those already,” Elway told me today. “It’s not going to help him with Independents. He’d need 85% of the independents to get to 51% [in a general election] and he’s not going to get that doing seminars about waterfront property.”

Late Update: NRSC spokesperson Brian Walsh writes in with this response to Democratic attacks on Rossi’s real estate seminars:

“Unless foreclosed properties are purchased don’t those properties stand vacant with no tax base coming into the local community, fewer families with roofs over their heads, and urban blight eventually resulting? Is that what the Democrats believe should happen? Or is their alternative policy that we resort to Communism, turn these properties into government housing and tell people where they should live?”

Note: This post has been updated.

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