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Winding down scene: Longview

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi in Longview/Stapilus

That, in the political environment of late fall 2008, Dino Rossi still is even competitive – and he may yet pull off the win – in his second race for governor of Washington, is testament to . . . something. Certainly Democratic Barack Obama will sweep the state in the presidential. And whatever criticisms might be made of the gubernatorial administration of Democrat Chris Gregoire, it has not been catastrophically awful, which often is what it takes to oust an incumbent. And most often, rerun races, as this is, only reinforce the outcome of the original.

The external environment was apparent enough at Rossi’s stop midday at The Works, an old-fashioned family restaurant in central Longview: Democratic protesters were out in force with pro-Gregoire and anti-Rossi signs. The crowd of 60 or so inside the restaurant to hear Rossi – evidently a Republican loyalist crowd – seemed a little subdued owing to the general environment. But they responded warmly and eagerly to Rossi; there almost seemed, after all they’ve all been through, a bond between them.

Watched in commercials and on television, Dino Rossi always comes across professionally but sometimes almost a little too slickly. As he was addressing and working the crowd in Longview, you could see the high energy level but also a more personal and informal appeal at work. Also, a campaigner with an underrated sense of calibration: Working with the people at hand, but not pressing things too far even when he senses they might like it.

As befitting a challenge, he went after Gregoire on several topics, from sex offenders to taxes. “I have an ability to predict the future,” he said dramatically at one point, concluding that Gregoire would push to raise taxes an hour after her re-swearing in. (If she’s sworn in, that is . . .) But the overall tone wasn’t angry or critical; Rossi managed to maintain a fairly upbeat mood even when talking about the evils of Olympia. He even trod effectively on the line between setting up a conclusive expectation of victory on one side, as opposed to appearing defeatist: The sense was of a candidate in a situation difficult but yet doable.

He also made some useful points about the very long-running Democratic control of the governorship in Olympia, centering around one of the governor’s lesser-mentioned but most important powers, that of appointment. For a full generation, the key appointments have centered around a revolving group; only a partisan change could open that cycle. A significant point in any governor’s race (presidential too, for that matter), and one that ought to be mentioned in more places.

He connects well, in a way Gregoire (when we’ve seen her in personal appearances) doesn’t quite do; and his easy informality – while remaining crisp – is something not easy to pull off. Rossi is clearly one of the most skilled campaigners in the Northwest.

Whether he wins, of course, still is in the hands of that external environment. It may be too much to overcome; but if he does, there will be reasons why.

One meta note, after another blogger experience of being evicted from a Rossi press conference: On entering the restaurant, I was eyed cautiously, asked at one point if I was media, and asked for a business card (which was provided). But that was all; pictures and notes were taken through the event without incident.

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