OLYMPIA — After months of pressure from national Republicans, two-time gubernatorial runner-up Dino Rossi announced Wednesday that he will take on Washington state’s powerful senior senator, Democrat Patty Murray.
Republicans need 10 seats to seize control of the U.S. Senate, and Rossi represents a chance to put an 11th Democrat-held seat into play in November’s election. Five Republican seats also are in play.
Rossi announced his candidacy with a video posted to his website Wednesday morning, saying he decided to run because of concerns over the national debt, the health care reform bill and the stimulus package.
“I know I won’t be able to look my children, and someday their children, in the eye if I do nothing while this fundamental redefinition of America continues unchecked,” he said in the video. “I believe the policies being passed in Washington, D.C., have put us on the edge of a fiscal cliff.”
Rossi’s spokeswoman said the candidate wouldn’t do any interviews until today.
Murray laughed when KOMO Radio in Seattle asked if Rossi would be a formidable opponent.
“I have six brothers and sisters, and my four brothers would tell you I love challenges,” she said. “So it’s OK.”
National Republicans courted Rossi aggressively after polls earlier this year showed he would be competitive. But Rossi hesitated for months, and many wondered if the former real estate agent was willing to tackle another campaign after two failed bids for governor. His 2004 defeat came after two recounts and a court case. Democrat Chris Gregoire won the 2008 rematch by some 200,000 votes.
Murray, a three-term incumbent, figures to be at least as formidable.
“There’s strong anti-incumbent sentiments now, but I think if people consider Murray’s record, she’ll be served well,” said Paul Sisson, 59, a retired gardener from Seattle. “Rossi is a nice guy, but I don’t think he’s got the experience and judgment she has.”
Washington state has no party registration, and all candidates appear on the Aug. 17 primary ballot. The top two advance, regardless of party.
One primary candidate, Clint Didier, has drawn favor from tea party activists and the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
But Didier, a farmer most famous as a tight end for the Washington Redskins in the 1980s, hails from sparsely populated Eastern Washington, while Rossi grew up in Seattle and now lives in the city’s affluent and vote-rich eastern suburbs.
Washington has leaned left in national politics in recent years. Ronald Reagan was the most recent Republican to carry the state in a presidential race, and six of the state’s nine U.S. House members are Democrats.
Murray, first elected in 1992, has won re-election twice by wide margins. She has aided powerful homegrown interests such as the Boeing Co., and delivers federal spending to all corners of the state.
Against Murray, Rossi will have to confront hot-button social issues such as abortion, which he was able to largely sidestep during his bids for governor by conceding that abortion rights were well-established here.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said his party is taking Rossi’s candidacy seriously.
“It’s an unpredictable year in America. We know that,” he said. “But Rossi is the establishment Republican candidate. He is the hand-picked candidate of Washington, D.C.”