- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Republican Dino Rossi officially announced his candidacy Wednesday for the U.S. Senate seat from Washington, giving Republicans a strong candidate in a state where an upset would put them on course to pull off their goal of taking the Senate back from the Democrats.

Mr. Rossi, 50 and a former gubernatorial candidate, ended months of speculation about his plans and has the backing of the national party. He becomes the Republicans’ presumptive favorite in their bid to unseat Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, 59, in the November election.

An average of recent polls by the website Real Clear Politics shows Mrs. Murray, a three-term incumbent and member of the Senate Democratic leadership, ahead of Mr. Rossi by just three percentage points. None of the polls took their whole samples within the past three weeks, and voters were responding to then-hypothetical scenarios.

Mr. Rossi made his announcement in a five-minute online video in which he asks voters whether they are angry and frustrated over such issues as unemployment, declining home values, Wall Street bailouts and the federal budget deficit.

“If, like me, you answer yes to these questions, I hope you’ll join me in a great campaign to help put things right,” he said.

Mr. Rossi, a former state senator, has twice run for Washington governor, losing in 2004 to Christine Gregoire by the smallest percentage margin in the history of U.S. gubernatorial races - 129 votes in a state where more than 2.8 million ballots were cast.

He joins an already crowded, unofficial field of 16 Republican candidates that includes state Sen. Don Benton and ex-NFL tight end Clint Didier, who was recently endorsed by former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Both candidates said they will remain in the race and think they can win the seat.

“I welcome Mr. Rossi into the race,” said Mr. Benton, 53. “But I’m in this to win. … He’s a great friend. I supported him in his gubernatorial races, and I’ll support him in his next one.”

Mr. Benton also said he has a solid, top-to-bottom campaign - from the Shawmut Group that helped Republican Scott Brown win a Massachusetts Senate seat to “the best sign crew in the country.”

Mr. Didier, 51, said he will stay in the primary so that voters can decide the future.

“That’s what the primaries are for: to give people a clear-cut direction on how they want to proceed,” he said. “I take this as a challenge to defeat the GOP machine.”

The campaign for Mr. Didier - an alfalfa farmer and Tea Party supporter - recently took a hit when the Seattle Times reported he accepted farm subsidies that he has vowed to eliminate.

His claim to being the race’s true outsider candidate is now being challenged by Mr. Rossi, who on the video declares himself an anti-establishment candidate, despite the Washington support.

Candidates have until June 7 to officially enter the race. Washington’s open primary, which is Aug. 17, puts all candidates on a single ballot and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will face each other for the seat in November.

In the polls compiled at Real Clear Politics, Mr. Rossi consistently polled about eight to 10 points higher against Mrs. Murray than Mr. Didier or Mr. Benton. His entrance would make Republicans competitive in 11 races for Senate seats now held by Democrats. They would need to take 10 and retain all five competitive seats of their own to take control of the chamber.

Washington is a fairly liberal state and Mrs. Murray hadn’t been considered an especially vulnerable incumbent. But Real Clear Politics now puts the race in the “tossup” category and a Murray defeat would be a strong indicator that Republicans could run the table.

The Rossi campaign said the candidate will not talk to reporters until Thursday. But Democrats are already in attack mode, raising questions about his business dealings.

Among the accusations made in an open letter from J.B. Poersch, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is that Mr. Rossi’s real estate firm has not paid $20,000 in property taxes, he is a stakeholder in an undercapitalized bank and has ties to an “extreme Right Wing group.”

In the video, Mr. Rossi also criticized the Democrat-controlled Congress for passing President Obama’s health care reform and vowed, if elected, to replace the “partisan, ill-conceived” bill with legislation that gives power to patients and doctors, not big government and insurance companies.

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