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Originally published Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Live inauguration coverage: AP | Washington Post | KUOW

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Democrats sue to make Rossi call himself "Republican" instead of "GOP"

OLYMPIA — A hearing has been scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. in King County Superior Court on a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the state Democratic Party which is attempting to force gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi to list his party preference on the November ballot as "Republican" instead of "GOP Party."

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — A hearing has been scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. in King County Superior Court on a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the state Democratic Party which is attempting to force gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi to list his party preference on the November ballot as "Republican" instead of "GOP Party."

Democrats say the Iraq War and low approval ratings for President Bush have left the Republican Party a damaged brand and that Rossi is trying to distance himself by using GOP as his affiliation.

Rossi is running against Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire. He lost to Gregoire by 133 votes in the 2004 election, and polls show this race to be close as well.

Polls by Stuart Elway have suggested many people don't know that GOP and Republican mean the same thing. One recent Elway poll indicated Rossi did better among voters if he used the "GOP" label instead of "Republican."

"There's no question we were shocked by the Elway poll," state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said, adding that an internal poll by the party had a similar finding.

"We believe the law is being broken, and we're asking the court to step in and fix it," he said.

The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, names Secretary of State Sam Reed as the defendant.

State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser questioned Elway's poll results. He also said the lawsuit is frivolous and that the party will step in to defend Rossi in court if needed.

"The idea that people don't know Dino Rossi is a Republican is just ridiculous," Esser said, noting that Gregoire's campaign and supporters have spent millions of dollars on ads making that clear.

A statement issued by Rossi's campaign called the lawsuit "an act of a desperate incumbent." Rossi has said that he's used the term GOP for years and isn't trying to confuse voters.

GOP stands for Grand Old Party, a nickname the Republicans picked up in the 1870s. The phrase is often used by the news media when referring to Republicans, but it hasn't served as an official party designation on an election ballot, until now.

The state's new top-two primary "says a candidate may list whatever party preference the candidate wishes," Reed said. "One person did Salmon Yoga Party."

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According to the Secretary of State's office, 25 candidates on the ballot in November list GOP, rather than Republican Party, next to their names. One candidate lists Grand Old Party.

Reed, a Republican, earlier this year said he'd advised some candidates, including state Attorney General Rob McKenna, to use Republican Party instead of GOP.

"I just think it's clearer to the voters and actually a little more respectful in some ways to give the full party name," Reed said at the time.

On Tuesday, Reed said he did advise candidates that if "they wanted to be taken seriously they shouldn't be making up names."

But Reed said he never specifically objected to using GOP and has used it himself on campaign signs.

Reed also said Democrats could have challenged this in court months ago.

"The time to object was before candidate filings in the first week of June," he said. "Now counties have actually sent their ballots to the printers. The timing is really bad for an issue we thought had been pretty well resolved earlier."

Pelz said he's confident the courts will rule the issue is more "important than whether two to three small counties have started to print their ballot. I know they haven't started to print in King County."

However, King County elections officials said their ballots are indeed at the printers and several thousand already have been printed.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or agarber@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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