Rossi stirs GOP hope in bid for governor - 17-day state tour ends with campaign stop in Olympia

December 18, 2003


How GOP candidates have fared

The last Republican governor in Washington was John Spellman, elected in 1980. Here is how GOP gubernatorial candidates have fared in Washington in recent years:

-1976: D-Dixy Lee Ray, 821,797; R-John Spellman, 687,039

-1980: R-John Spellman, 981,083; D- Jim McDermott, 749,813

-1984: D-Booth Gardner, 1,006,993; R-John Spellman, 881,994

-1988: D-Booth Gardner, 1,166,448; R-Bob Williams, 708,481

-1992: D-Mike Lowry, 1,184,315; R-Ken Eikenberry, 1,086,216

-1996: D-Gary Locke, 1,296,492: R-Ellen Craswell, 940,538

-2000: D-Gary Locke, 1,441,973; R-John Carlson, 980,060


•Election 2004

Dino Rossi is starting to make Republicans think they have a shot at winning the Governor's Office from Democratic control next year for the first time since the 1980 elections.

One reason is the engaging effect Rossi has on people.

The 44-year-old commercial real-estate dealmaker, who last week quit his state Senate seat, looks people in the eye. He listens, smiles and talks a pretty good Republican game about holding down taxes while insisting he wants to help the poor and vulnerable get a fair shake.

Plus, he got a budget passed in the Legislature earlier this year that does a lot of that.

"I believe this is the man for Washington," Thurston County Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Milly Rice said Wednesday. She is one of more than 100 Rossi believers who showed up for a campaign stopover at the Ramada Inn Governor House hotel in Olympia.

"I have seen him in action," Rice added. "What attracted me to Sen. Rossi is his fiscal discipline. He can actually create budgets that make sense, great budgets that show we can live within our means."

Rossi, whose visit capped a 17-city tour of the state, took the chance to lay out his primary campaign message: Improve the state's business climate by changing the goals of government and ending regulations that, he claims, require a small business to comply with 58 sets of rules from 28 different agencies -- just to hire one employee.

"The state is on the wrong track, and the reason is a failure of leadership," Rossi told the excited crowd. "For 20 years, the other party has held the Governor's Office. For 20 years, our state has pursued policies that destroy jobs and opportunities for families and communities."

But getting to be governor is a lot harder than winning applause from Republicans hungry to see someone besides a Democrat in office.

For one, Rossi has to harness his party, which has tended to splinter into camps that at times have put much effort and support into extremely conservative candidates who had little chance of winning.

University of Washington political science professor David Olson said earlier this week that the GOP approach thus far has been "brilliant" -- compared to every other campaign since 1980, when John Spellman won the governor's race. The GOP has found a single, relatively moderate candidate to support, and it is in the process of anointing him, according to Olson.

This leaves Rossi to watch and raise funds while the three Democrats in the race -- Attorney General Christine Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims and former Supreme Court justice Phil Talmadge -- "gnaw on each others' ankles" and expose each others' flaws, Olson said.

"So I think the campaign is going to be competitive," Olson predicted.

Rossi's speech and meeting with the Olympia Republicans was typical of other stops he has made around the state, Rossi said.

Those who packed into the Olympia event appeared happy that Rossi is running a strong campaign less than two months after announcing he would run. Rossi faces a primary challenge from Republican Dr. Federico Cruz of Pierce County. Cruz has won an endorsement from the Washington State Medical Association's political action committee, but other than that, Cruz has had trouble getting big names into his camp.

"I've been out here since 1991, and I haven't seen this much excitement for a candidate," said Jay Jennings, a Rossi supporter who works as House Republican Caucus staff director.

"I think he's a respectable, middle-of-the-roader," said Pat McElroy, a Department of Natural Resources employee, who described himself as a mainstream or moderate Republican.

"I think he's the best candidate we've had for at least three terms ... since Ken Eikenberry" in 1992, said Trent Matson, a housing analyst for the Building Industry Association of Washington.

Even Eikenberry, who was state Republican chairman in 1980 when Spellman was elected in President Reagan's landslide, is jazzed about Rossi. Eikenberry said he sees some of the same national-political factors shaping up to Rossi's benefit next year, and there is the chance of getting help from President Bush while Republicans charge to victory at all levels of the ticket in Washington state.

"The bottom line is, I think we have a potential of a sweep, just as we did in 1980," Eikenberry said.

There's no question that people are responding to Rossi.

The campaign drew 55 people to a Wednesday lunch in heavily Democratic Aberdeen, raising $5,000, aide James Keough said, adding that the campaign war chest is close to $700,000 -- more than twice what it had at the start of the month.

Gregoire has more than $1.1 million, but as a statewide official cannot legally raise money until 30 days after the Legislature adjourns next spring.

Rossi seemed to enjoy the appearance, soaking in applause when he talked about his work earlier this year as a senator in charge of writing a budget. An earlier budget proposed by Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, avoided broad-based tax increases, but it hurt the poor, disabled and other vulnerable people, Rossi said.

Rossi said he was able to avoid those unacceptable outcomes.

"I'm as proud of that as I am of anything I've ever done," Rossi said, noting that he has since won awards from a group that represents those with developmental disabilities. "When I'm governor, I promise you, we're going to stay that course."

Rossi wasn't above taking shots at his most likely opponent, Gregoire, who is known as a consumer advocate.

Rossi suggested that her experience with business was limited to "suing" businesses.

Brad Shannon, political editor for The Olympian, can be reached at 360-753-1688 or


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