Dunn won't run for U.S. Senate


OLYMPIA, WA - 4/10/03-- U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, touted as the Republicans' best shot at unseating Democratic Sen. Patty Murray in Washington state next year, said Wednesday night that she has decided against the race.
"It's good news for Patty," exulted Democratic state Chairman Paul Berendt.

But Republicans said they have a strong fallback choice in U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, who gained national attention by knocking off a sitting speaker of the House, 30-year veteran Tom Foley, in the 1994 "Republican Revolution."

Dunn, a veteran congresswoman who was pressured to run by the White House and the Senate Republicans' campaign committee, said she would have enjoyed a clash with Murray, but that she has decided to cast her lot with the House.

Dunn, who headed the state Republican Party for a decade before winning her 8th Congressional District seat in the Seattle suburbs in 1992, said internal polls showed her strong against Murray.

"It would have been a fabulous race, and it was a very, very tough decision," Dunn said in a telephone interview. "Would I have won? Who knows? I think I would have been able to pull it off.

"I have just decided I'm going to stay in the House. It just makes sense, when you look at where you can best use your skills, influence, time and clout."

Dunn, 61, is an influential senior member of her caucus, serving as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, vice chairwoman of the new Homeland Security Committee and a member of the caucus campaign team.

She has close ties to the Bush administration, and President Bush and his political director, Karl Rove, had urged her to run. Dunn was one of Bush's earliest backers for president and helped raise money for his campaign.

The White House has sought to anoint the candidates it sees as strongest and then ply the campaigns with direct help, including presidential visits and fund raising. The strategy helped the president win a Republican House and Senate last fall.

Washington leans Democratic, but has a high percentage of independent voters and neither party has a lock on majority status.

"I told the speaker and the majority leader tonight that I'm not running for the Senate, and they were very happy," Dunn said. "(Senate campaign chairman) George Allen was very unhappy. Karl Rove was really disappointed."

She said she's wistful, but at peace with her decision, and now plans to run for another term from her Bellevue-based district.

"My competitive strain is strong, and I'm one who doesn't like closing a door," she said.

Dunn said Nethercutt, her House colleague from Spokane, is her choice to take on Murray.

Nethercutt has said he's interested, but had no immediate comment Wednesday night. Aides said he has made no decision about the Senate race.

Dunn rejected the notion that Murray is home free now. Murray, a rising power in the Democratic caucus and former chairwoman of that party's campaign committee, is running for a third six-year term.

Murray's office declined comment on Dunn's decision.

The Democrats' Berendt said Dunn's decision and the way the Republicans handled candidate recruitment leave Murray in very good shape.

"I think Patty will be re-elected," he said in an interview. "It would have been a significant race if Dunn had run, because she would have been able to raise a lot of money.

"The Republicans made it very clear that Nethercutt is really second string, and they've managed to send the message that he's damaged goods."

State Republican Chairman Chris Vance was disappointed in Dunn's decision, but said he's not conceding a single vote to Murray.

"The point is not Jennifer Dunn -- it's Patty Murray, and Patty Murray is vulnerable," he said.


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