On Friday morning, Dino Rossi's Senate campaign announced a "media availability" at the state Republican convention in Vancouver, WA, down near the Columbia River.
Since I've been having some difficulty getting details on Rossi's positions on various national issues, I figured this would be a great opportunity to find out where he actually stands on everything from abortion to the Iraq war and offshore oil drilling regulations. So I jumped in my car and drove the roughly 200 miles down to Vancouver—for what turned out to be seven minutes in which Rossi failed to give detailed answers to anything, stuck to vague talking points like "every soul has a value," and then turned and walked briskly away from the clutch of reporters who had expected much more.
Reporters from the Vancouver Columbian and the Tacoma News Tribune—and yours truly—complained afterward to Rossi spokesperson Jennifer Morris that the availability hadn't answered our questions, and we asked for more time with the candidate. Morris said Rossi's schedule wasn't under her control, and added that she felt a "10 minute" availability had been sufficient. (Just for the record, before I did the above light edit on the video I took of this event, I checked how long it had run in total. It lasted 7:02. If you divide that by the five or so political reporters who were there, that's about 1:30 seconds for each of us.)
In the video, you'll see Rossi open by talking about how well his campaign is going based on his number of Facebook fans relative to Patty Murray's. (Later I asked Morris why the apparently web-savvy Rossi still doesn't have an issues page on his campaign web site; she declined to answer on the record.)
The first question (0:35) was about why Rossi finally decided to get into this race after months of very public fence-sitting. He stuck to the script, talking about how he was wooed—but not promised anything—by top Republicans in D.C., and ultimately decided that this run was compatible with his family's needs.
The second question (1:45) was about Republican rival Clint Didier and his recent endorsement from—and impromptu visit with—Sarah Palin. Rossi shrugged it off, saying: "Good for him... that's just fine." Rossi also noted that he's more focused on the fact that Washington has a top-two primary—meaning he's focused not on Didier, but on himself vs. Patty Murray.
The third question (3:19) was whether Rossi supports Arizona's new immigration law. He didn't answer the question, instead talking about his support for a "tall fence with a high gate" along the border with Mexico. He also dramatized the danger of illegal immigration with this tale:
We had a woman who was raped, we had a person that was killed by an illegal immigrant who had been deported on numerous occasions. Went across the border, walked back. Went across the border, walked back. If we don't have a physical barrier—it's kinda like being out in the middle of a lake in a rowboat, and you got a hole in the bottom of the boat, first thing you gotta do is stop the water from coming in.
I asked Rossi if the rape he was talking about had occurred here in Washington. "There was one, a rape, it was in the newspapers," Rossi replied. "I'm not sure what the date was." Then his spokesperson, Morris, called out: "We've got time for one more." (Later I asked Morris what specific incident Rossi was referring to. After all, this alleged rapist and murderer would have been making a very long walk—across the U.S.-Mexico border to Washington State and back, "on numerous occasions," as Rossi said—to commit those crimes. Morris said she'd get back to me with the specific incident Rossi had in mind. She hasn't yet. UPDATE: Slog commenter SchmuckyTheCat suggests that this is probably what Rossi was talking about. Seems likely to me, though it's worth noting this particular crime involves an alleged rape by a suspected illegal immigrant, not a murder.)
The last question was about what Rossi really means when he says, in answer to abortion questions, "every soul has a value." Senators don't typically take important votes on whether every soul has a value. They do take votes on federal abortion funding, the availability of morning after pills, and the approval of Supreme Court justices who are in a position to uphold or overturn Roe v. Wade.
Rossi's statement (no doubt by design) is so vague it's hard to tell what, exactly, it means when overlaid on those kind of abortion debate details—which, again, are exactly the type of details the Senate frequently deals with. When pressed at the media availability, Rossi ultimately got to this: "If I'm going to make a judgment, I'm going to make a judgment on the side of protecting life. Always have protected life, and I will." Afterward, Morris e-mailed me to say: "I think if you listen back to your tape you'll find Dino said that he'll 'vote on the side of life.'"
Which, by the way, could mean everything from "Rossi will vote to support abortion in cases where the mother might die if she doesn't have one" to "Rossi opposes abortion in all instances, even in cases of rape and incest and danger to the life of the mother, because he is on the side of protecting the life of the unborn child."
With that final lack of clarity—and with only four questions fielded—Morris called out "Thank you!" and Rossi turned and left. Quickly.