Over at Publicola Josh speculates that an intramural brawl with Tea Party candidate Clint Didier might actually help Dino Rossi in November:
Didier is going to make Rossi look good (moderate) to the mainstream public. Instead of alienating the GOP base, Rossi’s scrap with Didier is going to attract moderate Democrats and Independents who want change, but not Krazy change.
Didier will make those important moderate voters feel comfortable with Rossi in time for the general.
Hmm… I don’t think so, and here’s where I think Josh gets a little too clever for his own good: see, voters already know Rossi, and while I suppose he could run to the left of Didier — it’s as reasonable a strategy as any — I’m not sure that convinces moderate voters, especially Democrats, most recently familiar with Rossi from 2008.
About 200,000 more voters cast ballots in 2008 than in 2004, a year in which Libertarian candidate Ruth Bennett took 63,000 votes, yet Rossi only increased his totals by about 30,000 votes in a top-two face-off. And in King County, by far the largest and most Democratic county in the state, Rossi actually received 25,000 fewer votes in 2008 than he did in 2004, garnering less than 36% of the vote compared to over 40% four years earlier.
One can only assume that moderate Democrats and independents got to know Rossi better over the intervening four years, and that they didn’t like what they saw. So I don’t see how a contrast with Didier, however sharp, changes many minds. In some ways, due to his visibility, Rossi is every bit as much of an incumbent as Murray, and with all the strengths and weaknesses that implies.
The other flaw in Josh’s reasoning is that it ignores the fundamentals of this particular political climate, in which the single biggest factor Republicans have going in their favor this cycle is a still somewhat yawning gap in enthusiasm between the bases of the two parties. I think former state GOP chair Chris Vance is at least half right when he says “If the wave is big, Dino Rossi is going to win. If the wave shrinks, he’s probably not going to win.” (Only half right, because I don’t believe even a big wave is a guarantee of victory.)
This election, or at least Republican hopes of substantial pickups, is all about turnout, and state Republicans are just not going to excite their base having Dino running as a RINO. Rossi needs relatively enthusiastic support from the Tea Party, assuming it really exists, if he’s to have a hope of beating Sen. Patty Murray, and I don’t see how he generates this by running to the left of his party’s conservative base.
So while I fully expect Rossi to choose his words and issues carefully, depending on the crowd, I also expect him to attempt to embrace at least the spirit of the Tea Party, if not all of its stupider, Tentherist specifics. It’s a risky strategy in a state in which Democrats enjoy such a strong numerical advantage, but if Rossi’s only hope of victory is a Big Red Wave™, then he’s gonna have to ride it as long and as hard as he can.