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Originally published May 24, 2010 at 9:23 PM | Page modified May 24, 2010 at 9:25 PM

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Rossi to seek Murray's seat, sources say

After months of speculation, Republican Dino Rossi is expected to officially announce Wednesday that he's running against Democrat Patty Murray to become Washington's next U.S. senator.

Seattle Times Washington bureau

Rossi's runs

1992: Lost general election for state Senate seat in East King County

1996: Won state Senate seat and served until December 2003

2004: Certified as governor-elect before losing hand recount to Chris Gregoire by 133 votes

2008: Lost rematch with Gregoire, 53 to 47 percent

Seattle Times archives

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WASHINGTON — After months of speculation, Republican Dino Rossi is expected to announce this week that he's running to become Washington's next U.S. senator.

The decision instantly would vault Rossi over a dozen others seeking to oust three-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

But Rossi also would have precious little time to catch up to Murray's sizable campaign account, which has some $6 million in cash. And despite several polls suggesting that a Rossi-Murray faceoff could be competitive, no leading political watchers are predicting Murray's defeat.

A person with direct knowledge of Rossi's plans said he's expected to make his entry official Wednesday. Pat Shortridge, senior strategist for Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio, has signed on to help run the campaign, said another person close to Rossi. The sources spoke on the condition that they not be identified. Shortridge, a political consultant based in Minnesota, was an aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican.

The website Politico said Shortridge declined to comment Monday about involvement with a Rossi campaign. "There's a time and a place for everything," he said.

Rossi has declined to discuss any upcoming announcement.

He has been in no rush to start campaigning ahead of the Aug. 17 primary. The filing deadline for all candidates is June 11.

Former vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin last week endorsed another GOP candidate, former NFL player Clint Didier, of Pasco, a favorite of many tea-party activists. But because of the state's top-two primary — a wide-open race that allows the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, to move forward to the general election — Rossi figures to advance.

Didier and at least two other Republicans in the race have said they would stay in despite a Rossi candidacy.

"I look forward to debating him on the issues confronting us today," said state Sen. Don Benton, of Vancouver. "I still believe that I am the best candidate to beat Patty Murray in November."

Democrats have been girding for Rossi's candidacy for weeks. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has released a barrage of attacks trying to link Rossi, a commercial real-estate investor, and his business associates with financial improprieties.

On Monday, the Democratic campaign committee quickly noted that Shortridge briefly worked as a lobbyist for Enron until just before accounting fraud brought down the Houston energy giant, and sardonically called Shortridge's hiring "a perfect match."

Rossi is one the state's best-known Republicans, having waged two campaigns for governor. He came within 133 votes of the governor's mansion in 2004 and lost a rematch with Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2008.

Rossi's lengthy — or interminable, as some GOP Senate rivals saw it — indecision about entering the race apparently hinged in part on his and his family's appetite for the grueling demands of working in Congress. Rossi and his wife have four children, aged 19, 16, 13 and 9.

But that analysis also had to include Rossi's chances of winning, an issue of particular resonance for a man who has lost two gubernatorial bids.

This time, however, Rossi may be counting on riding the tide of anti-incumbent mood into the Capitol.

"Dino's never had the wind on his back before," said Tony Williams, chief of staff to former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton. Williams, now a lobbyist who splits his time between Seattle and Washington, D.C., is backing Murray.

Said Chris Vance, a Republican political consultant: "If the wave is big, Dino Rossi is going to win. If the wave shrinks, he's probably not going to win."

The Washington Poll, released Monday through the University of Washington, showed Murray with a 44 to 40 percent edge over Rossi in a hypothetical November showdown. The statewide telephone survey of 626 registered voters was conducted May 3-23 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Jeff Bjornstad, Murray's chief of staff who recently replaced Carol Albert as her campaign manager, did not respond to a message. Murray's spokeswoman Alex Glass would not discuss Rossi's candidacy.

"With every campaign Senator Murray has ever run," Glass said, "she's not worried about who's running against her. She's going to continue to do her job to get up and fight for working families of Washington state every day."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Kyung Song: 202-662-7455 or ksong@seattletimes.com

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