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GOP Giving Up on Rossi, Reluctantly

Republicans have 15 months to find a Senate candidate in Washington state.

After waiting seven months for the outcome of the country’s closest-ever gubernatorial contest — and waiting to see if they could convince unsuccessful GOP nominee Dino Rossi to switch to the 2006 Senate race if things did not go his way — Republicans have reluctantly reached the conclusion that Rossi is sticking to his guns.

Publicly and privately Rossi maintained throughout the recounts and just-concluded court battle that he had no interest in the Senate, and Republicans finally seem to believe him.

They’re not happy about it. As recently as last week, a poll showed Rossi alone among potential Republican Senate candidates leading freshman Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

Rossi has been on a family camping trip this week and was unavailable for comment, but his operatives gave Republicans eager to topple Cantwell no cause for relief.

“He has no plans to run for the Senate,” spokeswoman Mary Lane said.

State Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (R) became the first person since this month’s decisive court decision on the governor’s race to publicly say GOP leaders are asking her to consider the Senate race — the clearest sign yet that Republicans are moving past Rossi.

Parlette told The Olympian newspaper: “People have thrown my name out to encourage me to run against Maria Cantwell. But I have made zero commitments. I am flattered. I am just exploring options at this point.”

But some wishful thinkers believe that Rossi has left the door open on a Senate race just a crack.

“He has not made any public statements,” said Washington state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance.

But Lane said the matter was settled long ago.

“It will just be apparent when he doesn’t run,” she said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee says that is not good enough.

“Out of respect to Dino Rossi and his situation, everyone was in his corner. Now, until he says definitively himself he’s not interested, not only the committee but any potential candidate will wait … that will have to be something he personally says,” NRSC spokesman Brian Nick said.

Jim Keough, a Seattle-based consultant who worked for Rossi in 2004, said the answer is still “no.”

“He’s been saying it all along [maybe] people are listening to him finally. He hasn’t called me up and said Jim, ‘I’m running for Senate.’”

Democrats increasingly believe they are clear of a Rossi candidacy as well.

“I never personally believed Rossi would run for the Senate,” state Chairman Paul Berendt said.

The Republican list after Rossi is quite long, though no one has hired a staff, commissioned a poll or raised a dime because of the Rossi factor.

Topping the list of most Washington state political watchers is Safeco chief Mike McGavick.

“The consensus is that if Dino Rossi doesn’t want it, obviously the party wants him but if not, McGavick,” said Seattle Weekly political editor George Howland Jr.

From there the list includes former Rep. Rick White, who ousted Cantwell from her House seat in 1994; Diane Tebelius, a party official who failed to win the GOP nomination for the open 8th district race last year; John Stanton, head of the former Western Wireless; Vance; and conservative local radio talk show host Mike Siegel.

Christian Sinderman, a Seattle-based Democratic strategist who has worked for Cantwell in the past, said she gets stronger the longer Republicans are without a candidate.

“They’re casting about and making a lot of noise and in the meantime she continues to do her job,” he said. “I haven’t heard anyone serious yet.”

Nick said the NRSC is not worried. The primary isn’t until September 2006.

“It’s June; we’re still well over a year before the race and a variety of people could have a competitive race against Cantwell,” he said, noting most polls show her with less than 50 percent voter support. “We’ll have a candidate very soon and they’ll give her a very competitive race.”

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