Rossi in, Simmons out
A week ago, a Democratic source tipped his hand a little to me and referred to Washington state's U.S. Senate seat race as "the last one that could be on the map" -- i.e., the last one that Democrats might have to worry about. Cue the worry. Former state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, who's maintained some level of sympathy from the electorate after his near-miss 2004 run for that office (he won initial vote counts and lost a recount), has responded to months of courting from GOP leaders by jumping into the race.
Polls suggest that Sen. Patty Murray, like so many incumbents, is in the danger zone. But I detect somewhat less worry about Murray's odds of survival than I do about, say, Democrats' chances of holding the Illinois seat once held by Barack Obama.
For starters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has had a distinct absence of luck this cycle, has spent months battering Rossi over his post-politics business deals. Rossi's long Hamlet act has allowed tea party-backed candidates to gain steam, although Rossi has more time to deal with that than, say, Dan Coats did in Indiana. And Murray, going for a fourth term, has $6 million in the bank and a record of winning against serious challengers. In 1998, in her first race for reelection, Murray faced Rep. Linda Smith (R-Wash.), a class of '94 member who won a tough primary and then lost by 17 points to Murray. In 2004 Murray faced Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.), another class of '94 member -- he ousted then-Speaker of the House Tom Foley -- and won by 12 points, running slightly ahead of the Kerry-Edwards ticket.
At the same time, it's hard to get a read on what Republicans think of former congressman Rob Simmons quitting the GOP U.S. Senate primary in Connecticut. Simmons got in early, led Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) for months, then never regained his footing once Dodd retired and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal became the Democratic candidate. Last weekend Republicans gave their nomination to Linda McMahon, the World Wrestling Entertainment mogul who can spend upwards of $30 million on the race, freeing up NRSC resources. But conservatives who'd been watching the race thought Simmons, a decorated veteran, could take full advantage of Blumenthal's recent scandals. McMahon? Well, she can buy ads to talk about the scandals. Here's NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.)'s reaction:
Rob Simmons has served our nation with honor, respect, and integrity, and I thank him for his Senate candidacy in Connecticut. Congressman Simmons is a valuable asset to the Republican Party, and I strongly hope that he will continue to stay involved in this process leading up to the November midterm elections.
As a successful businesswoman who is ready to restore much-needed checks-and-balances to Washington, I know that Linda McMahon will run an exemplary campaign against Richard Blumenthal. Clearly the Democrats have recruited a flawed candidate in Blumenthal, who has repeatedly demonstrated that he has difficulty simply telling the truth. We’re confident that Linda McMahon will make this Senate seat in Connecticut a competitive pick-up opportunity for Republicans this November.