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Monday, September 17, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gregoire gearing up for '08

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — If money matters — and who in politics would suggest otherwise? — the state Republican Party has a problem.

Though the 2008 election is more than a year away, Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire already has raised nearly $2.7 million in campaign cash. The Republicans, meanwhile, still don't have a candidate for governor.

In the past five months alone, since the Legislature adjourned, Gregoire has held about two dozen fundraisers and brought in nearly $1 million.

That's about the same amount raised during the same period by all state Republican candidates combined, including Attorney General Rob McKenna, state Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland and dozens of incumbent legislators.

Gregoire appears on pace to surpass easily the $6.4 million she raised in 2004, which was nearly double the previous record for a gubernatorial candidate. That year, Gregoire didn't reach the $2.7 million mark until four months before the election.

"She's pumped up and ready to campaign," said Paul Berendt, former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

As was the case in 2004, Gregoire is getting a lot of support from out of state — more than $316,000 so far. That trend is likely to accelerate. EMILY's List, a national group that raises cash for Democratic women who support abortion rights and in 2004 helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Gregoire, recently began soliciting donations for her 2008 campaign.

On top of that, the national Democratic Governors' Association — which poured more than $2.5 million into Gregoire's 2004 race — last month sent $80,000 to the state Democratic Party.

Berendt said Gregoire's big head start is a "huge problem" for the Republicans.

"With fundraising you need momentum," he said. "You just can't get a fundraising campaign up and running overnight."

But Republicans shrug off such talk.

"No panic here," said state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser. "There's never been a doubt she's going to raise a lot of money."

Like most Republicans, Esser is hoping former state Sen. Dino Rossi — who barely lost to Gregoire in the 2004 election — will soon announced a rematch. In their last race, Rossi matched Gregoire nearly dollar for dollar in fundraising.

Rossi has said he will decide by the end of the year whether to run.

Chris Vance, former state GOP chairman, said if and when Rossi gets in, he will be able to quickly raise a lot of money.

"It's not like a normal challenger," Vance said. "There are just a ton of Dino supporters out there who are just waiting to be told when and where to send a check."

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said the party's not taking anything for granted.

"We expect Rossi to be the candidate, and we expect him to be well funded by the Republican fundraising machine," Pelz said.

And it's not as though Rossi has been sitting idle.

For months, he has been traveling the state, giving speeches and raising money on behalf of the Forward Washington Foundation, a nonprofit group he formed last year.

Rossi says Forward Washington is simply an effort to engage the public in finding solutions to the state's biggest problems.

But Democrats contend it is a de facto "Rossi for Governor" campaign. They point out that, at his Forward Washington gatherings, Rossi uses many of the same pitches that he used in 2004.

In July, the state Democratic Party filed a complaint accusing Rossi of using the foundation to sidestep state campaign-disclosure laws. That complaint is being investigated by the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or rthomas@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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