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Rossi says he needs $5 million

by Jeff Switzer
Journal Reporter

ISSAQUAH -- Surrounded by the stalwarts of his party, Republican State Sen. Dino Rossi of Sammamish launched his campaign for governor Monday, promising to end a 20-year stretch of Democratic control.

``For the past 20 years, this state has had a fatal flaw -- we're addicted to process,'' Rossi said. ``I say we need a little less process and a little more progress.''

But Rossi says his campaign is an uphill battle, and that he'll have to spend as much as $5 million to tell his story of being a ``fiscal conservative with a social conscience'' to Washington voters from Spokane to the Olympic Peninsula.

Gov. Gary Locke is not seeking re-election. The leading Democrat contenders have so far raised just over $1 million among three candidates.

It's still early, though. Very early. Election Day is nearly a year away.

Rossi, 44, a commercial real estate broker, plans a 17-city tour in the next three weeks to campaign and raise money.

Rossi's senate district includes the cities of Issaquah, Sammamish, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Maple Valley, Fairwood and parts of unincorporated King County.

``This state is on the wrong track, and the reason is a failure of leadership,'' Rossi said. ``After 20 years of governors taking us in the wrong direction in Olympia, the time is right, and I promise you under my leadership as governor of this great state we are going to do better.''

He promised jobs and a better economy for a struggling state and government reforms.

Rossi's campaign already has a foot on each side of the Cascades, in both high-tech and agriculture.

Western Wireless CEO John Stanton of Bellevue -- once named as a possible contender for governor himself -- is Rossi's finance chairman. From Prosser, Bud ``Carrot King'' Mercer -- owner of the state's largest carrot processing business and well-known agricultural businessman -- is also a finance chairman.

Surrounded by Republican glitterati in suits, Rossi gave a 20-minute campaign speech to a cheering crowd of about 400 people at Issaquah's Village Theater -- interrupted 24 times by applause.

Stanton told the crowd that in the past five gubernatorial elections, the Democratic candidates have out-fund-raised the Republican candidates.

``That is going to change this year,'' Stanton said. ``Money does not win elections, but the absence of money can lose elections.''

Stanton said 40 people have pledged to help Rossi's campaign. ``We need to get Dino's campaign off to the right start.''

Stanton did not name the 40 supporters and Rossi did not sketch out a definitive campaign platform.

But Rossi said he would work in every possible way to create jobs and to streamline state government. He played on his recent success as the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and his no-new-taxes budget adopted by the Legislature and Democrat Gov. Gary Locke.

Initiative king Tim Eyman cheered on Rossi from the crowd.

``Taxes are out of control and tax increases should be a last resort,'' Eyman said later. ``Rossi embodies that philosophy not by what he has said, but by what he's done.''

After his speech, Rossi posed with his wife and four children as the crowd chanted ``Dino! Dino!''

When Republicans talk about being strong in statewide politics on the east side, they often mean the east side of the Cascades.

However, Rossi is the second consecutive gubernatorial candidate from the Eastside of Lake Washington.

Bellevue resident and KVI 570 talk show host John Carlson was trounced by Gov. Gary Locke in 2000. The suburban Eastside of Lake Washington and King County is mostly dominated by Republicans, and sending up GOP hopefuls could mark the area's ascendancy in statewide politics.

``In order to be successful statewide, it's almost essential to have a base in King County,'' said Brett Bader, GOP strategist with Bellevue's Madison Communication Corp. ``Our best crop is on the Eastside.''

As for financing the campaign, Bader said Rossi will ``have plenty of money and then some.''

Rossi will ``start out with the wind at his back'' because the incumbent Democratic party can't distance itself from the bad economy and voter dissatisfaction, Bader said.

The only other GOP hopeful is Federico Cruz, director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

If Rossi advances, he will face one of three likely Democratic candidates: Attorney General Christine Gregoire -- generally considered the favorite to succeed Locke -- takes on King County Executive Ron Sims and former Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge.

Gregoire has already raised $743,000, Sims has raised $283,000 and Talmadge has $73,000. Republican Cruz has $11,000.

Rossi's second senate term expires at the end of next year, and he said he will make a decision about his plans for that seat early next month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Jeff Switzer can be reached at jeff.switzer@kingcountyjournal.com or 425-453-4234.


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