Rematch in governor’s race feels like instant replay

It seems pretty clear that what’s most stoking the fire of Dino Rossi’s campaign for governor is vindication.

He and his supporters felt robbed in 2004 and want justice in 2008. This is their revote, four years delayed.

“With this race for governor, Washington state gets a second chance,” Rossi said in an August speech to the Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce. “We are going to win, again.”

More than any issue, the accumulative anger and frustration since what Rossi calls the “debacle of 2004” are fortifying his backers with a greater intensity than Gov. Chris Gregoire’s backers.

Poll after poll in the roughly 1,400 days since election day 2004 has found those who voted for Rossi locked into doing so again at that moment. There’s been no budging.

He denies the conduct of that election is motivating this repeat run. He issues this denial so often on the stump it is unmistakable he wants voters to remember in hopes of unleashing pent-up emotions that will benefit him.

It’s working, probably better than he could have imagined.

Loads of new contributors and volunteers are engaged on Rossi’s campaign this time around, creating what he calls a “citizens’ movement.”

Reunion tour also might apply. Rossi in 2008 is not an updated version of 2004, he is a re-release.

In Mukilteo, he sung his best hits including the ballad of writing a balanced budget in 2003, the anthem of changing the culture of state government and the rocker on how long Gregoire has held a government job.

It’s the same bass lines and drum beats, no new melodies or riffs. His supporters soak it up and cheer. If the rhythms got them moving before, why mess with success this time around.

On Saturday, when he and the governor meet for their first debate, he can relax, deliver the same spiel and aim to pick up a few of the undecided and peel off a few of the wavering in Gregoire’s camp.

This is very frustrating for Gregoire and her strategists. Though there’s little new in his breezy rhetoric, there’s little they can do about it in the minds of voters.

A challenge for Gregoire on Saturday is hearing those echoes of the past and not responding. Any moment she spends revisiting the 2004 election will undoubtedly benefit him more than her.

It is unlikely first-time and undecided voters who do tune in will be swayed much by stories of the past. They’ll be more apt to listen hard to talk about who’s to blame for those dark clouds on the horizon and what’s going to be done about them.

That’s the serious challenge for Gregoire.

As incumbent, she’s on the hot seat to point out the silver linings to the clouds, tracing what’s occurred around the state the last four years and what’s ahead with her at the helm.

It’s crunch time. The outcome may come down to whether voters are moved by the strength of her vision or by the power of his vindication.

Columnist Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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