Political insiders are speculating that after his razor-thin loss in the governor’s race, Dino Rossi will turn his sights to Maria Cantwell’s US Senate seat in 2006. Indeed, Cantwell’s staff is already gearing up for a Rossi challenge, and promises to respond with a tougher campaign than Rossi faced from Christine Gregoire.
But I’m not so certain “Rossi for US Senate” is such a sure thing. Rossi has young children, and a move to the other Washington would be more than a little disruptive. Plus, I’ve always suspected that George Nethercutt’s failed senate campaign was a trial run to build up statewide name recognition — he would have been foolish to relinquish his cozy congressional seat without being promised a shot at Cantwell if he lost to Murray. (And besides, I couldn’t help but think those odd kibitzing-with-the-wife ads were more the opening of the ’06 campaign than the close of the ’04 one.)
But there’s another reason to suspect that Rossi may not be the anointed challenger in ’06… word has it that the anointer himself is quietly exploring a run of his own.
Of course, I’m talking about our state’s second-best-known lying, hypocritical loudmouth… Chris Vance. And with his hyperbolic performance during the protracted recount melodrama, the GOPolitburo Chair is poised to seize the top loudmouth spot from long-time champion, Tim Eyman.
Washington state is cursed with some of the nation’s most boring politicians: for every Jim McDermott there seem to be a hundred Gary Lockes. And into this void stepped Eyman, blithely spewing pithy, mean-spirited soundbites, unhindered by constituency or decorum… or the truth.
But with Tim’s political relevance shrinking faster than Alice down the rabbit-hole, Vance has exploited the election controversy to fill the vacuum with his own Eymanesque, anti-government rhetoric. And the media has rewarded him with the kind of news coverage any ambitious politician would die for. There are winners and losers in every election, but in this race, Chris Vance appears to be both.
While our friend Timmy would never run for elected office (he couldn’t afford the pay cut,) Vance has not abandoned his personal, political ambitions. Thrust upon a statewide (and national) stage, he appears intent on making the most of it. And what could be more enticing to an ambitious politician than a coveted seat in the US Senate?
Dino Rossi has gained nearly as much statewide name recognition from the recount as he did from the campaign itself, but in the self-promotion game, Vance has placed a very close second. While Rossi has struggled to maintain a mild-mannered, statesmanlike mien, Vance has hardened the hearts of the party faithful with his fiery accusations of Democratic corruption and his blithe, Orwellian doublespeak. If as the commentators on the right-wing blogs suggest, the battle-cry for WA Republicans should be “Throw the crooks out!”, then who better to represent this party-of-the-wronged against Cantwell than the man who refused to surrender in the face of all odds, all obstacles and all reason?
In an election contest, whatever it might do to the perceived integrity of the system, and whatever the result… Chris Vance figures that he will come out a winner. Any media attention is good attention; that’s the first page from the Tim Eyman playbook.
But Dino Rossi may not fare so well. He has surely benefited from the perception — misguided as it may be — that he was the “legitimate” winner after two counts, and Democrats were poor losers in seeking a third. But with every passing day that Gregoire holds the mantle of Governor-elect, this perception fades and the roles reverse. And should he drag this election through the courts, yet fail to prove the so-far-unsubstantiated allegations of fraud and corruption, any good will he has wrongly earned thus far by playing the martyr, will evaporate beneath the glaring spotlight of media scrutiny.
It is ironic then, that the man who most strongly urges Rossi to pursue this contest to the bitter end is the man who stands to gain the most by either victory or defeat. Should Rossi, against all odds, overturn this election, then Vance would have eliminated his most formidable opponent for the ’06 nomination. But should this gambit fail, as it most surely will, then Rossi will emerge politically diminished — a bitter, recalcitrant loser — a weakened rival to the firebrand Vance for the hearts of the party faithful.
I understand if Dino Rossi is gravely disappointed — indeed, suspicious — at his sudden reversal of fortune. But when he takes council from the likes of Chris Vance, he should take care to consider whether he is being asked to sacrifice his own ambitions, for the ambitions of others.