It’s no secret I didn’t want Dino Rossi to jump into the race against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, not because I think he stands much of a chance of winning — he doesn’t — but because of all the other intangibles his candidacy brings with it.
With Rossi in the race, the national Dems will now spend money here that would be better spent defending more vulnerable seats elsewhere, while state Democratic money and focus will be distracted from a host of down-ticket races, not the least of which being the open seat in WA-03, and to a lesser extent WA-02, where Rep. Rick Larsen appears to have finally drawn a reasonably viable challenger. Furthermore, win or lose, this pretty much eliminates Rossi from the 2012 gubernatorial contest where he could have proven a substantial roadblock to Rob McKenna’s naked political ambitions, and a potentially weaker opponent to nearly-inevitable Democratic nominee Jay Inslee.
All in all, I’d always thought of a Rossi candidacy as a net plus for his party, if not for him personally.
But, that doesn’t mean a Rossi candidacy doesn’t present some serious risks to state Republicans — and opportunities to Democrats — especially given his late entry into the race, and the unique political climate in which his party currently finds itself. When life gives you Dino, make Dino-ade… that’s what I always say.
Or, perhaps, make tea.
I’ve never been one to take our state teabaggers too seriously as anything more than a symbolic gesture, and had Rossi jumped into the race back in March, I still wouldn’t have considered them much of a political factor. But Rossi’s last minute candidacy, and the invasion of out-of-state establishment money and consultants he brings with him, is nothing if not a big “fuck you” to Clint Didier and the entire Tea Party crowd.
Oh, the NRSC and the WSRP still want you to show up at rallies and angrily wave your misspelled signs, as long as it’s their chosen candidates you’re rallying for, instead of one of those crazy, constitutionally illiterate hicks that so excites your base. (And no, behind closed doors, mainstream Republicans don’t show you guys much more respect than I do.) You might think you want Didier, or perhaps Sean Salazar, to be the nominee, but the GOP elite… they know better. That’s why they’re force-feeding you Dino Rossi.
And how well Rossi goes down with the Tea Party, especially after the GOP machine brutalizes their preferred candidate, remains to be seen. (That recent hit piece on Didier in the Seattle Times? You don’t suspect that the story was pushed by Republican operatives in an effort to clear the way for Rossi? Welcome to the big leagues.) I don’t know how much sugar Didier supporters put in their tea, but it could take an awful lot for them to willingly swallow Rossi after a bitter primary battle.
Who knows? Perhaps the tea baggers are merely the deluded paper tigers I’ve made them out to be, and they’ll just roll over in front of the Rossi Express. Or, perhaps they’ll prove to be a more potent grassroots force, and fight for the nomination tooth and nail, turning out voters not just in the Senate primary, but in congressional and legislative primaries as well? Perhaps Rossi’s candidacy just made it that much more difficult for establishment GOPer Jaime Herrera to make it to November in WA-03? Perhaps the crazier Republican will triumph in a handful of legislative primaries, Ellen Craswell style, making GOP pickups that much more difficult in the general?
Perhaps… you know… if the Tea Party is really more than a handful of angry Tenthers with a penchant for drawing Hitler mustaches.
And that’s the risk for Republicans in Rossi’s Dino-come-lately candidacy, in a year in which they were counting on Tea Party enthusiasm to get out the vote. Rossi could energize tea baggers… to come out and vote for non-establishment candidates in the August primary. Or, Rossi could totally alienate and/or demoralize his party’s tea bagger base, thus undercutting chances of a Big Red Wave™, at least here in Washington state.
Yeah sure, Rossi makes life at least a little more difficult for the DSCC, and in the unlikely event of a wave election sweeping through this Washington, he gives Republicans a better chance of winning than they might otherwise have. You know, the 50 State Strategy and all that. But by so explicitly dissing the Tea Party faction and their Palin-endorsed candidate, Rossi also creates down-ticket complications that don’t so clearly work out in the GOP’s favor.
So no, tonight at Drinking Liberally, on the eve of Rossi’s announcement, I won’t be crying in my beer. Instead, I’ll be enjoying a tall, refreshing glass of ice-cold Dino-ade in anticipation of making the most out of the opportunities Rossi’s candidacy presents me.