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Dunn Expected to Skip Senate Bid

Nethercutt Meets With NRSC Chief Allen

With Rep. Jennifer Dunn, the favorite of Republicans in both Washingtons to take on two-term Sen. Patty Murray (D) next year, expected to announce today that she will not be a candidate for Senate in 2004, Rep. George Nethercutt (R) wasted no time positioning himself for a Senate run.

As the rumors of Dunn’s imminent announcement circulated on Capitol Hill this week, Nethercutt on Wednesday met with National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) to discuss strategy.

While a Nethercutt spokeswoman said the Congressman may not make a final decision on a Senate race until this summer, he has made no secret of his desire to run for higher office. Nethercutt appeared, however, to be willing to defer to Dunn — and the desires of national GOP leaders — if she had decided to run for Senate.

Republicans spoke optimistically Wednesday of their prospects in Washington state, even without Dunn as their leading candidate.

“We’ve been blessed in the state of Washington because we’ve had two potentially outstanding candidates in Congresswoman Dunn and Congressman Nethercutt,” said Dan Allen, the NRSC’s communications director.

But with a pitched battle for control of the Senate certain for 2004, Democrats couldn’t help but gloat a little about Dunn’s departure from the scene.

“This was a real public courtship between the White House and Senate Republicans and Miss Dunn, and I think it’s a real setback for their recruiting efforts,” said Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Whoever runs now is going to look like somebody from the junior varsity team.”

Woodhouse said that while Democrats have been confident all along that Murray will win next year, “we’re not going to say it doesn’t put a smile on our faces to see the White House and national Republicans have such a humiliating recruiting failure.”

Although he enjoys a reputation as a giant killer, having knocked off then-Speaker Tom Foley (D) in 1994, Nethercutt’s political profile is far different from Dunn’s. While she is a moderate from the all-powerful Seattle region, Nethercutt hails from sparsely populated Eastern Washington and is considerably more conservative.

A poll conducted in late February for the NRSC showed just how competitive a Dunn-Murray matchup might have been. In the poll, Murray had a 46 percent to 42 percent advantage — but that was within the poll’s margin of error.

Democrats will attempt to exploit Nethercutt’s broken term-limit vow if he is the GOP Senate nominee. While it has never hurt him in his re-election contests, Democrats believe Nethercutt may be vulnerable on this issue because he made the failings of career politicians the centerpiece of his campaign against Foley.

Still, Republicans contend that Murray is beatable regardless of who their nominee is, and Nethercutt is a driven campaigner and a fairly successful fundraiser.

A source close to Nethercutt said Wednesday that the Congressman’s campaign treasurer was still putting together his quarterly fundraising report due April 15. At the end of 2002, Nethercutt had just $74,000 in his bank account. Murray had $1 million, and figures for her April report were also not available.

Murray arrived on the statewide political scene in 1992 as a self-described “mom in tennis shoes,” and defeated then-Rep. Rod Chandler (R) to win the open Senate seat despite being outspent almost 2-1. She defeated then-Rep. Linda Smith (R) in 1998 to win a second term.

Although Murray has proved adept at bringing home the bacon and working issues of interest to her constituents, Republicans believe she is vulnerable after she made remarks in a Washington state classroom last year in which she said she understood why certain parts of the world have been receptive to Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorist network. State Republican officials attempted to portray Murray’s observations as unpatriotic and sympathetic to terrorists.

Chris Vance, chairman of the Washington state Republican Party, said he is not worried that the GOP doesn’t yet have a definite Senate contender.

“As long as we have someone up and running by summer, we’re fine,” he said.

While Nethercutt has long been considered the likely GOP alternative to Dunn in the Senate race, if he is hesitant to give up his safe House seat there is no obvious plan C for Republicans. One long-shot scenario has the GOP turning to multimillionaire John Stanton, the founder and CEO of Western Wireless, who is also weighing a run for governor in 2004.

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