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Mild West Preview

With most of the chattering classes focused on next week’s wild primaries in Florida, this Tuesday’s entries, Washington and Wyoming, are not receiving a great deal of attention. That’s partly because Washington’s “top two primary” system has made many contests essentially a positioning exercise for November, and partly because Wyoming politics just get missed nationally on occasion.

But there is some intrigue surrounding the performance of Republican Dino Rossi in Washington’s Senate primary, and there’s a close race among Republicans for a spot in the general election in the open 3d congressional seat. In the Cowboy State, there are competitive gubernatorial primaries for both parties, with the Republican race being a close three- or four-way battle in which out-of-state endorsements have been significant.

All year long, Republican long-shot prospects of winning control of the Senate have depended heavily on recruiting a strong candidate against Democrat Patti Murray. DC GOPers got the candidate they wanted in Dino Rossi, who lost two very close gubernatorial races to Christine Gregoire. And while Murray has usually led in general election polls (49-46 in an August 1 PPP poll; 49-47 in a July 28 Rasmussen survey), Rossi has kept it very close.

But two other Republicans with some significant backing have also jumped into the Senate race. Almost no one thinks Rossi will fail to finish second and advance to the general election, although his margin could be lower than originally expected. Rossi has studiously avoided Tea Party events, which have been dominated by former NFL player (for the team in that other Washington, the Redskins) Clint Didier, who has secured endorsements from Sarah Palin and Ron Paul while calling for the phasing out of Social Security and elimination of several federal Cabinet agencies. Conservative businessman Paul Akers, who has also been on the Tea Party circuit, has spent enough of his own money to make a mark, too. The most recent PPP poll showed Rossi at 33%, Didier at 10%, and Akers at 4%, while Murray leads the field at 47%.

The other big primary contest in WA is in the very competitive 3d congressional district, where Democrat Brian Baird is retiring. Former state legislator Denny Heck, a Democrat, is very likely to finish first, but the intra-Republican battle for the second spot has become close and unpredictable. The consensus Republican front-runner is state representative Jaime Herrera, a 31-year-old Latina who is a prize national GOP recruit. But former state legislative staffer and Bush administration bureaucrat David Castillo (not, despite his surname, a Latino) has worked the Tea Party circuit and sports a FreedomsWork endorsement, while a third Republican, disabled veteran David Hedrick, is running to the right of the rest of the field. Interestingly, Herrera has explicitly opposed partial privatization of Social Security, an unusual position for Republicans this year.

In all but one county in Washington, all voting is by mail, which means the primary has been underway for some time. The official estimate of expected primary turnout is 38%, a bit above average for midterm primaries.

In Wyoming, the very popular outgoing Democratic Gov. David Freudenthal decided against a third-term bid (which would have required a legal challege to the state’s term limit laws) relatively late, leaving Democrats scrambling for candidates. Ultimately state party chair Leslie Peterson decided to run, with her major competition being former University of Wyoming football star Pete Gosar. A Mason-Dixon poll at the end of July showed Peterson up over Gosar 30-22. There’s not a lot of difference between the two candidates on issues; both pledge to continue Freudenthal’s legacy.

The Republican primary, however, has had a few ideological flashpoints. The two front-runners have been former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead and State Auditor Rita Meyer. Mead has drawn fire from other candidates for entertaining the possibility of a fuel tax increase, and in general, is suspected by some conservatives of being excessively moderate. Meyer, whose military service in both the Gulf War and in Afghanistan is a key credential, has won backing from Sarah Palin and also from the Susan B. Anthony List, the anti-abortion counterpart to Emily’s List. A third candidate, former state legislator Ron Micheli, has been bashing Mead’s position on fuel taxes and generally comporting himself as the “true conservative” candidate, obtaining endorsements from Wyoming-based anti-abortion groups. And finally, state House Speaker Colin Simpson, son of former Sen. Alan Simpson, has secured an endorsement from his father’s old friend George H.W. Bush.

The late-July Mason-Dixon survey showed Meyer leading leading the field at 27%, with Mead at 24%; Simpson at 17%; and Micheli at 12%.