In his view, Democratic Party strategists consider her a comfortable enough incumbent so they won't need to invest gobs of time and money helping her.
Engaging the two-term incumbent too fiercely with a challenger will cause the party to change course and bring its political machinery to Washington where it will raise money, make noise and muffle the sights and sounds of his campaign against Democrat Bob Ferguson.
This effect could domino up and down the ticket.
Dunn's remembering what happened in last year's hard fought contest between U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Republican Dino Rossi. A late multi-million dollar push for voters funded by Democrats secured Murray's victory while boosting vote totals of Democratic candidates farther down the ballot.
"That really hurt Republicans," Dunn said. "So on (this Senate) race my belief is we don't put anybody up. Make it a nominal challenge. Keep the national Democratic fundraising apparatus out of the state and don't give them another reason to bring (President) Barack Obama here to further drive up turnout."
A fellow student in this school of thought is Cantwell's former campaign manager Ron Dotzauer of Snohomish.
"Reagan Dunn's correct," he said. "The best thing that could happen for him and for (Republican candidate for governor) Rob McKenna is if Maria Cantwell gets a pass."
The big money for a get-out-the-vote effort like in 2010 would come from outside the state and it won't be coming unless Cantwell is seriously challenged, he said.
State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur said he understands their line of thinking "but I disagree with it."
He's enrolled in the other school of thought on this race.
Given the anti-incumbent fervor, an aggressive challenge of Cantwell by an energetic candidate could produce a Scott Brown-like upset. Even a loss delivers the benefit of making Cantwell spend her political dough on getting re-elected and not other campaigns like Democratic candidate for governor, Jay Inslee.
Enrollees in this school theorize turnout will be huge in 2012 regardless because of the presidential election. Plus battles for congressional seats -- including a new one -- mean Democrats and Republicans and an array of independent groups will be slugging it out whether the Senate race is in play or not.
Republicans find themselves in this conundrum because they have no Senate candidate with less than a year to go to the 2012 primary.
"There will be a serious and credible candidate," vowed Wilbur, who's been doing recon for candidates for months without success.
Among the prospects, U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert and state Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane are gaining the most focus these days.
Reichert is the first choice of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is lobbying him hard to run.
But Reichert's seat in the House of Representatives is safe and will be safer when redistricting is done. He's in the majority party and serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
That would be hard to give up. However, Reichert is reportedly telling party leaders he'll decide for certain once he sees the new boundaries of the congressional district. Apparently, if he thinks another Republican can win the seat easily then he might make the leap.
Baumgartner is the latest entry on the list. The freshman state senator is a promising force for the party. He's young and articulate with a resume that includes diplomatic work overseas for the U.S. Department of State.
In the Legislature, he's on the budget and higher education committees giving him a foundation of knowledge on two key campaign issues -- government spending and public education.
He's being encouraged to form an exploratory committee to find out how high his trial balloon could float. That might happen in the coming days.
Democrats, forced to wait and watch, certainly recognize securing the Senate seat without much of a fight could come at the expense of losing the governorship.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield's blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or email@example.com.
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