But the poll is hardly all good news for Republicans.
It shows, for now, that the party’s only hope of unseating Cantwell is Rossi, who has said he has no interest in being a senator and would rather contest in court the 2004 gubernatorial election.
Rossi yesterday reiterated his plans. “I don’t need a political career,” he said in a telephone interview. “My whole goal is to fix my state. As a U.S. senator, I’m not sure how I do that. … That really isn’t the direction I’m going.”
Rossi was in Washington yesterday to meet with the Republican Governors Association.
Other potential Republican gubernatorial candidates, including former Rep. Jennifer Dunn, would lose by wide margins to Cantwell, the poll indicates.
Rossi is suing to overturn the result of the November gubernatorial election, in which Democrat Christine Gregoire beat Rossi by 129 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast.
Rossi and state Republican officials contend that more votes were cast in certain precincts than there were voters.
The trial begins in Washington state Monday. Rossi wants the state to hold a makeup election in November. Gregoire was sworn in as governor in January.
The Strategic Vision poll also makes clear that support for Rossi rests on public perceptions that he was cheated out of the governorship.
Strategic Vision CEO David E. Johnson said that one of the key questions Rossi must grapple with is whether that is enough to get him elected.
“He ran as the outsider,” Johnson said of Rossi, a former state senator. “He was going to change the system. It’s a lot harder to run that way if the Republicans control the Congress.”
Republican officials in Washington, D.C., have acknowledged that it is easier for GOP gubernatorial candidates to distance themselves from the national party than it is for Senate hopefuls.
And there is little doubt that the national party — represented by President Bush and congressional leaders such as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — is unpopular in much of Washington, where in 2004 Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) beat Bush by 200,000 votes in the presidential race and Sen. Patty Murray (D), seeking reelection, trounced then-Rep. George Nethercutt (R) by nearly 350,000 votes.
Johnson said the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which would very much like to see Rossi challenge Cantwell, did not solicit or pay for any part of the poll.
NRSC spokesman Brian Nick confirmed that the campaign committee was not connected to the poll but added that the survey shows Cantwell is vulnerable.
If Rossi chose to get into the Senate race, Nick said, “it would be one of the top races in the country immediately, and we would absolutely put resources into it.”
The NRSC’s chairwoman, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), has spoken with Rossi about challenging Cantwell.
A Democratic source in Washington, D.C., offered a different take, saying that Rossi is “married to” the governor’s race. “That means he’s going to be stuck dealing with this stuff for the next few weeks at least, which means he can’t take any steps to prepare for any kind of Senate campaign, and he’s losing time and he’s losing money in his effort to do that,” the Democrat said.
A spokeswoman for Cantwell did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), said the senator is doing everything she must do to win a second term.
“Senator Cantwell is doing her job, which is the best preparation that any senator can do in advance of an election,” Singer said, adding that Washington’s junior senator had been fighting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, among other issues.
Cantwell raised $1.8 million in the first three months of 2005, bringing her cash on hand to just under $1.9 million, according to her Federal Election Commission report. At this rate, she will easily raise more than the $11.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, that she brought in for her 2000 race. She eked out a 49 percent victory that year.
But Strategic Vision’s Johnson said there is reason for Republicans to be optimistic about their prospects in 2006.
The survey indicates, he said, that there is significant disillusionment with the Washington state Democratic Party, with 30 percent of voters expressing a favorable opinion of the party, compared to 50 percent having an unfavorable view.
Whether Rossi seeks to capitalize on that disillusionment and launch a Senate bid remains to be seen. While in Washington this week, Rossi had no plans to meet with anyone at the NRSC.
One Republican source said that party officials walk a “fine line” between urging Rossi to run for the Senate and harassing him. “He has to take into consideration his supporters, everybody who feels very passionately about what happened,” the Republican said.