Today Cynthia Stewart, president of the nonpartisan Tacoma-Pierce County League of Women Voters, confirmed that Dino Rossi declined the invitation to participate in their candidate forum. (The forum starts tonight at 6:30 p.m.) She wouldn't say if Rossi's campaign provided any reason beyond scheduling issues. Of course, Rossi may have felt a little tired after an "evening of quality Conservative conversation" at the East Pierce Republican Women's Club "Ladies Night Out" fundraising dinner last night.
And in fact, Bev Forstrom, the woman who hosted the "Ladies Night Out," told me he may indeed have been a little tired. When I asked why he might not have attended the LWV's candidate forum tonight, Forstrom said, "He might just be burned out. We were his second spot yesterday."
Forstrom said last night Rossi was his "usual charming self." She said 49 people paid for plates but saw about 60 people in attendance. Based on her description of the evening, it sounds like Rossi delivered his usual introductory speech—the one about his time in the Washington State Senate, his experience door-belling around this district this year, and the history of his grandfather, who chain-migrated to Washington State.
Forstrom said some of the people in attendance were a little worried Rossi wouldn't be conservative enough. These folks had been unhappy with Reichert for "not always voting the conservative line." But Forstrom said Rossi had "something for everyone," and that even the most conservative among the group felt like "he was the man for the job." She added that Rossi made everyone "feel listened to," and claimed he didn't talk about Trump.
Conservatives paying for a plate may feel as if Rossi's listening to their concerns, but the nonpartisan organizers at the League of Women Voters seemed a little disappointed that Rossi didn't extend the favor to their club tonight.
"I think it’d be informative if he came and answered along with everybody else so that the audience can see the contrast between the candidates," Stewart told me over the phone. "This is our eighth candidate forum this primary. Each has been extremely informative, and it’s really a shame he’s opting out."
The Democratic candidates in the race—Jason Rittereiser, Kim Schrier, and Shannon Hader—are disappointed but not surprised.
"It has been clear from the beginning of this race that to debate Dino Rossi, we're going to have to track him down in the district," says Jason Rittereiser's spokesperson. "Jason is ready to do that any time and any place."
In an e-mail blast, Schrier
claims without evidence that Rossi "backed out" of the forum, though the LWV says he never intended to go in the first place. (It appears LWV told Schrier Rossi would attend the event. Stewart hasn't returned my follow-up phone call regarding the issue.) Still, in the release she writes, "Dino Rossi has dodged every single candidate forum and refused to host public events for the entire primary race...My Republican opponent seems more concerned with playing politics and tiptoeing around issues than representing our district."
Hader says "it's not surprising [Rossi] wouldn't show," noting that he hasn't shown up to a single debate or forum all primary. However, if she makes it through the primary, she looks forward to "taking him on one-on-one... that will be the chance to do the deep dive the voters need and deserve to make their choice."
Dino Rossi's absence from approximately five hundred million candidate forums this year has been one of the most galling—if completely predictable—aspects of the race to fill Rep. Dave Reichert's seat in Washington's 8th District. Washington has a "top-two" primary, which means two candidates from any party can make it through the primary. But at the moment Rossi dominates the financial game, thanks to insignificant Republican competition and money from odious PACs. This allows him to lay low and skate through the primary without having to test his ideas against those of his challengers in any way.
Within this context, it's no surprise that Rossi turned down an invitation to participate in a candidate forum run by even a nonpartisan organization like the LWV.
The real issue here is that Rossi claims to have a special ability to reach across the aisle, claims to have the powers to fix a broken Congress, claims to "see value in everybody" and to treat Democrats as if they're arguing in good faith, but his actions don't back up those claims. Like Reichert before him, he'll say he'll be available to all of his constituents, but really only serve the ones who serve him.