Clint Didier on Friday said he's willing to throw his support behind Republican Dino Rossi, but not until the U.S. Senate candidate makes specific promises about taxes and abortion rights.
Republican Dino Rossi has spent the last several years fending off accusations from Democrats and abortion-rights groups that he’s too conservative for Washington voters.
On Friday, Rossi found himself in the odd position of getting whacked by the other side of the political spectrum.
Clint Didier, the Pasco farmer and former NFL player who placed third in this week’s Senate primary, came to Seattle to announce that he wouldn’t endorse Rossi unless he pledged more conservative positions on abortion, taxes and federal spending.
While he badly wants to see incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Murray defeated, Didier said he’d heard from too many supporters who “are not going to automatically vote for Rossi … a lot of them told me they won’t even support him at all.”
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Rossi said he wouldn’t yield to demands by Didier or anyone else.
Didier warned that could cost Rossi conservative votes in the November runoff against Murray. Didier’s jab drew plenty of media attention, but it’s not clear how much his ire will really hurt Rossi come November.
It could actually help Rossi by softening the image Democrats have spent years building up of him as a hard-line right-wing extremist.
“Clint Didier just did Dino Rossi a favor, by allowing Dino to communicate that he doesn’t take orders from anybody,” said former state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance. He predicted the number of voters who would follow Didier’s lead was “inconsequential.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said while Rossi may not be as conservative as Didier, “he is a very conservative Republican who has been pulled to the right” during the primary. He said the spat with Didier could dampen turnout among the conservative base.
Didier finished a distant third in the Senate primary, taking about 13 percent of the vote, according to new vote totals released Friday evening. Murray led with 46 percent, and Rossi finished second with 33 percent.
At a news conference in downtown Seattle, Didier suggested the 170,000-plus people who backed him could make the difference between a Rossi victory in November and Murray’s re-election to a fourth term.
So Didier laid out positions he said could help Rossi win over his supporters.
Didier said he wants Rossi to sign a pledge that he won’t raise taxes, to promise to vote against any plan to increase federal spending, and to personally sponsor the Sanctity of Life Act, a measure that would attempt to ban the U.S. Supreme Court from ruling state abortion restrictions unconstitutional.
Rossi quickly rejected Didier’s demands in a statement by spokeswoman Jennifer Morris.
“He knows Washingtonians are principled and independent and expect their public servants to run on what they believe,” Morris said. “In that spirit, Dino will continue to campaign on the things he believes, and will not submit to a list of demands made by anyone, in Washington state or Washington, D.C.”
Didier’s tax and spending demands don’t seem much of a stretch for Rossi. But the abortion promise would have put him in a stickier position.
Just as he did when he ran for governor in 2004 and 2008, Rossi has largely shunned the topic this year — saying he opposes abortion but doesn’t plan to push legislation on the issue if elected.
Didier says he wanted Rossi to lead on that issue, “to unite the Christian Coalition behind the party.”
Rossi already has been attacked this year by abortion-rights groups. Most recently, they criticized him for saying at a Spokane GOP gathering this month that he opposes abortion for “anything other than maybe rape, incest or life of the mother.”
Lauren Simonds, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, declined to speculate on how Didier’s attack would affect Rossi’s image on abortion rights. But she said, “Rossi’s strategy has always been to appear as a moderate,” and that NARAL would continue “educating voters about how conservative and anti-choice he is.”
Didier said he didn’t think his demands were unreasonable.
“We are trying to bring him votes, not back him in a corner,” he said. “People want to hear some specifics about how he will follow the party platform, rather than more generalities like ‘reduce spending.’ “
Didier compared himself to a tough football coach he played for with the Washington Redskins.
“He rode me hard and always demanded more than I could give,” Didier said. He didn’t appreciate the coach at first, but later realized he “made me a better player, a better man, and it enabled me to help my teammates win games.”
Vance said Didier, as a political newcomer, didn’t realize how politics should be played. For example, he noted that once Didier made his demands public, Rossi would only seem weak if he agreed to them.
“I would not be so arrogant to give Clint Didier advice on how to block an outside linebacker, but he’s brand new to politics and he doesn’t know how things work,” Vance said.
Vance added that Didier was blowing any chance at a future political career with his behavior.
But Didier led off his news conference Friday by saying he didn’t care about himself, just his country. “I don’t have a political career,” he said.
Staff reporter Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org