The Seattle P-I headline asks the rhetorical question, “Will Dino Rossi run again for governor?” — and then pretty much provides the answer in the lede:
As Dino Rossi ponders a possible 2008 election rematch against Gov. Chris Gregoire, he’s doing everything, at a state level, that a Republican candidate for president might do at the national level.
Everything, that is, except actually talk about issues.
For a man who promised to bring bold new leadership to the governor’s mansion, and whose 2008 campaign essentially kicked off in December of 2004, Rossi has been resolutely silent on absolutely every single contentious issue that has wracked the state these past few years.
The gas tax, I-912’s effort to repeal it, gay civil rights, the inheritance tax, the Viaduct, I-933’s attempt to dismantle land use regulation, and nearly every other editorial inducing issue… Dino Rossi, the titular leader of Washington Republicans, has refused to weigh in by publicly lending his voice of authority to one side or the other. You’ve got to admire his discipline and consistency.
But then, we shouldn’t really expect anything less from a man whose 2004 campaign was long on the promise of new leadership but short on any prior history thereof. After a legislative career distinguished mostly by the nastiness of his campaigns, Rossi adopted as his singular accomplishment his personal authorship of the 2003-2005 state budget, a bit of GOPropaganda repeatedly echoed by his patrons on the Seattle Times editorial page, though clearly contradicted by the Times’ own contemporaneous reporting:
The Republican budget has much in common with the all-cuts plan that Democratic Gov. Gary Locke unveiled in December. In fact, Rossi opened a press briefing yesterday with a PowerPoint presentation titled: “Following the Governor’s Lead.”
Yes, Rossi’s budget was a tad more draconian, eliminating health care for 46,000 children, but as Rossi made perfectly clear at the time, the fiscally conservative budget adopted that session was largely authored by a Democratic governor.
Apart from his business-friendly pronouncements and promise to shake up the state bureaucracy, Rossi’s 2004 campaign was short on substance, while his personal beliefs and political ideology were intentionally obfuscated. Even on abortion, the emotional issue that most vividly defines our nation’s Red/Blue divide, Rossi, a devout Catholic, refused to take a public stand. “None of us are running for the U.S. Supreme Court,” Rossi quipped, brushing aside the thorny issue by insisting that the governor had little power over Roe v. Wade.
That kind of non-denial denial is simply not going to fly in 2008 — and not just on the issue of abortion, which a far-right-wing Supreme Court is preparing to throw back to the states. Rossi and his advisors are relying on resentment over his narrow 2004 loss and the circumstances surrounding it, to cement his Republican base and bring back many of the independent and crossover voters who almost carried him to victory. But his bitterly fought election contest also gave rise to what is perhaps the most active, organized and influential local political blogosphere in the nation, and while our tactics may not always be appreciated by our friends in the legacy press, our reporting and our media criticism cannot be ignored.
The media landscape has changed — somewhat thanks to Rossi himself — and he simply will not be allowed to run the same sort of tabula rasa campaign that almost snuck him into the governor’s mansion in 2004. The danger in attempting to be all things to all people is that if you leave yourself undefined, your opponent will define you for you. The Gregoire campaign failed to do that in 2004, but I doubt they’ll make the same mistake twice. And this time around she will be aided by a maturing progressive media infrastructure that will push the political press corps to force Rossi to take a stand on substantive issues, or look foolish refusing to do so.
The 2004 Rossi campaign provided the boilerplate strategy for how Republicans might run and win in Washington State — specifically, try not to look so much like Republicans. That David Irons and Mike McGavick failed to successfully ride this strategy to victory is not necessarily due to the fact that they are inferior salesmen (though, they are,) but rather, an indication that both reporters and voters have grown hip to the strategy.
But even given a media time-warp Rossi would be hard pressed to duplicate his 2004 near-success in a 2008 campaign governed by an entirely new set of political dynamics. This time around Governor Gregoire has a record, and in attacking the specifics, Rossi will be forced to specifically enunciate what he would have done differently. Would he have brokered a gas tax increase, or allowed our transportation infrastructure to languish without it? Would he have vetoed the gay civil rights and domestic partnership bills? Would he have fought to put more money into education and children’s health care, or argue that fiscal constraints just don’t allow it? Would he have supported repealing the estate tax, and if so, what would he have cut from the budget to offset the loss of revenue?
Rossi’s conservative legislative record and political ideology puts him outside of the mainstream of Washington voters — and outside of the mainstream of many of the independents and so-called “Dinocrats” who voted for him last time around. I look forward to playing a small role in finally introducing the real Dino Rossi to Washington voters.