GOP eyes Murray’s seat; Rossi ponders bid

No state swung for Republicans in 1994 more than Washington state. And if a GOP wave crashes again in 2010, it’s looking more likely that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) could be swept away. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) could land a big prize in two-time gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi, who’s considering a Senate bid.

And he appears to be more interested than previously thought.

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At the same time, Rossi isn’t rushing to make a decision or launch a campaign. In an interview with The Hill, he suggested that as long as he gets in before the June filing deadline, he will have what he needs to run a campaign.

Rossi said he is confident that he can tap his existing donor list and raise big money fast.

“I am in no hurry,” Rossi said. “It’s the same people who are going to give the same amount in a compressed time.”

And Rossi didn’t sound enamored with the idea of getting involved in another knock-down, drag-out political contest. He has lost to Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) twice, including by 129 votes in a 2004 recount — before which he had been declared the winner.

“I don’t really want to be in another close election like that ever again,” Rossi said with a chuckle.

Waiting until June isn’t exactly an ideal position for Republicans, though. They would like to see their candidate have as much time as possible and, if Rossi doesn’t run, press forward with another candidate, like former King County Executive candidate Susan Hutchison.

Kittitas County GOP Chairman Matt Manweller said former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) and other Republicans are telling Rossi that he can wait, but that it’s making some Republicans anxious.

“He’s saying, ‘You’ve got till early summer,’ and I’m not sure if that’s good advice from Slade,” Manweller said. “I think jumping in in June is a little late.”

Republicans see Rossi dipping his toe farther and farther into the water, including upping his attendance on the Lincoln Day Dinner circuit and other GOP functions. At the same time, Rossi has four children between the ages of 9 and 19, and he said serving in the Senate is something that never occurred to him until recent weeks.

In fact, even after Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) big win in Massachusetts two months ago, Rossi’s response to entreaties was, essentially, Thanks, but no thanks.

That has changed in recent weeks, say those close to Rossi, but they insist he’s still not leaning toward a bid.

One source said that on a scale of 10, with 10 being most likely to run, Rossi was likely at a 3, but could be a 4 or 5.

“Six or eight weeks ago, he was definitely not thinking about running for U.S. Senate,” the source said. “But given how things have gone in Washington, D.C., and the polls that show him ahead now, he’s got to think about it.”

In fact, two polls have shown Rossi with a small lead on Murray. Rasmussen showed him ahead 48-46, while GOP pollster Bob Moore, who polled for Rossi’s gubernatorial campaign, had him ahead 45-43. In addition, an independent SurveyUSA poll last month showed Murray with a negative approval rating (43-50) for the first time since it began tracking her five years ago.

Murray’s office did not comment for this article.

Murray was on nobody’s target list before Brown’s win, but Republicans think they might be able to go after her using two attack lines: that she contributed to the debt as an appropriator, and that she has been a visible face of the Democratic healthcare bills.

“Instead of working across party lines to strengthen the economy and grow jobs, she’s been focused on expanding government and putting federal bureaucrats in charge of our healthcare system,” said a spokesman for the NRSC, Brian Walsh.

Democrats said Rossi is hardly a capable alternative for Republicans.

“We’re not going to take any lectures on the economy from someone so out of touch that he wants to lower the minimum wage, deregulate industry, and weaken government oversight,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Issues aside, Republicans think the national environment can carry them to victory in Washington, which has a history of going with the flow in wave years.

Former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis has frequently talked about the prospects for GOP gains in Washington this year, pointing out the GOP’s upset of House Speaker Tom Foley and five other wins in the state in 1994, as well as 1964, when Democrats took four of six GOP-held seats there.

“Washington state has a history in these kind of years,” Davis said. “This looks to me like a vulnerable year.”

Davis said Republicans need a well-financed candidate to take advantage of a potential wave. If they don’t get it in Rossi, the party will likely turn to Hutchison, whom NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) mentioned in a briefing Monday.

Hutchison took a respectable 41 percent in heavily Democratic King County in November. She told The Hill that she had a conversation with Cornyn recently and that she has eyed a Senate run “for years.”

But with Rossi taking his time and weighing his options, it leaves Hutchison in a sort of limbo. She said she would support Rossi, but that she will proceed on her terms.

“I don’t think what he does will determine what I do,” she said.