If you believe what Republican Dino Rossi is saying, he doesn't have a campaign organization, an official spokesperson, or even a clue as to whether he'll jump into the race to unseat Washington's senior Democratic senator, Patty Murray. He's just hard at work at his job at the commercial real-estate firm Coast Equity Partners, trying to figure out his next move. Just being a dad and a husband for now. Just flattered by the attention.
Rossi is acting like a man who wants in. He was in D.C. last month chatting with leaders of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who were evidently impressed by polling that showed Murray is vulnerable to a Rossi challenge. Then, on April 2, he very publicly fired off a letter asking Murray to call off the attack dogs from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who—after smartly assuming that Rossi is doing what it looks like he's doing—have been hitting him for his past "dirty deals" as a businessman (detailed at the Democrat-funded site www.dirtydealsdinoforsenate.com).
"Eighteen years ago, this is exactly the kind of politics you were against," Rossi wrote in his letter to Murray, using language straight out of the challenger versus incumbent playbook. "Apparently, 18 years in the Senate has changed you completely."
Rossi can continue to play this maybe-I'm-running-or-maybe-I'm-not game all the way up until the candidate filing deadline on June 11. But here's the problem with strolling in late to topple a three-term incumbent like Murray: He would need a winning amount of money and a winning candidate profile, and he doesn't have either.
Murray has nearly $6 million on hand right now for her reelection effort, while Rossi has to wait until he finally, officially "decides" to start trying to rake in serious dough. And while there may be a lot of conservative anger in the country as a whole at "D.C. politicians," Rossi lacks a résumé that suggests he can step right into Murray's shoes and take on the big issues of the day. For example, he's mounted two failed runs for governor but still hasn't taken a clear position on abortion, dismissing it as the business of federal officials (even though he now may be about to ask for a federal office).
Yet another problem: In actuality, time is probably not on Rossi's side. Democrats are already seeing results from their strategy of tearing Rossi down before he's even declared. On April 9, the same Rasmussen poll that had Rossi leading Murray earlier this year found that he's now trailing Murray. The Democratic attacks, the polling firm wrote, "may help explain" that drop.
"Republicans need to know that this is not going to be an easy race against Patty Murray," said Anne Martens, spokeswoman for Washington State Democrats. And Rossi must realize by now that the longer he takes to declare his intentions, the more he shoots himself—and his fellow Republicans, who can't do serious fundraising until Rossi declares his intentions—in the foot.