From today’s Seattle Times:
If money is any indication, this year’s race for governor is going to make the 2004 contest look like a low-key affair.
You have no idea.
The article focuses on money, which both Gov. Chris Gregoire and real estate salesman cum motivational speaker Dino Rossi are raising at a record clip — over $7.5 million combined thus far, with some observers predicting a $20 million-plus race.
“This is one of those things that never ceases to amaze me, the amount of money in politics,” [former state Dem Party chair Paul] Berendt said. “Certainly the rematch is a factor here. But it’s not the dominant factor. There’s just more money in politics.”
But money is only part of the reason the 2008 campaign will be a helluva lot different than the last time around. The big difference, in my opinion, will be the lessons learned from 2004, a race in which an overconfident Gregoire allowed Rossi to get away with running as an amiable tabla rasa, on to which voters could project a fanciful image of the Rossi they’d like him to be.
First rule of political campaigning: if your opponent refuses to define himself… define him for him define your opponent. And you can be damn sure that a substantial chunk of Gregoire’s (and her surrogates’) war chest will be spent doing exactly that. Rossi is simply too conservative for WA state, on both social and economic issues, and this time around he’s not going to get away with refusing to talk about issues that don’t poll well for his campaign. There are also character issues regarding Rossi — his dubious business ethics and his documented reputation as a downright mean spirited campaigner — and in 2008, voters are going to be informed of that too.
Since Rossi’s near miss in 2004, David Irons, George Nethercutt and Mike!™ McGavick have all tried to duplicate the Rossi model — a low-key, likable, issue-less run toward the middle — and all with disastrous results. That strategy simply won’t play here anymore… at least not if your Democratic opponent is awake. And I don’t believe even Rossi is willing or able to duplicate the Rossi Strategy in 2008.
Sure, Rossi’s going to attempt to avoid those many issues where he’s clearly out of step with WA voters, but we’ve seen a different Rossi — a meaner, angrier Rossi — on the campaign trail thus far. No doubt he truly believes he was cheated out of the governor’s mansion four years ago (cognitive dissonance is a powerful drug) and thus he’s understandably pissed off. And it shows. He likes to joke that at the start of the last campaign most folks thought that “Dino Rossi” was a brand of wine. Add an “h” after the “w” and you’ve pretty much described Rossi’s 2008 campaign thus far.
The point is, it’s going to be a much nastier campaign from both sides, which in this particular race, I think is a good thing, because it will leave voters much better educated about who the candidates are, and what they stand for, than in 2004. And as little influence as Rossi uber-patron BIAW wants you to believe bloggers like me have, in their heart of hearts they know that a lot has changed since 2004 in the way the media covers political campaigns, and that the emergence of the blogs as media watchdogs has a lot to do with it. Perhaps I give them a little shit, but there isn’t a single political reporter I have met who is not a dedicated professional, and while they may chafe at our criticism (and the tone in which we offer it), as long as it is substantive, well-supported and relevant, it generally doesn’t go unheeded for long. Much of what I do as a blogger is the media equivalent of complaining to the refs, a time honored sports tradition that yields real, if hard to quantify results.
So hold onto your hats. This won’t be the same Rossi. This won’t be the same Gregoire. And this won’t be the same passive media environment in which the 2004 campaign played out into a virtual tie.