Don Benton drops out of U.S. Senate race, endorses Rossi

Decision comes after his fellow Republican raises $600,000 in one week

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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photoSen. Don Benton

State Sen. Don Benton dropped out of Washington’s U.S. Senate race Thursday, hours after fellow Republican Dino Rossi announced that he had raised $600,000 in his first week of campaigning for the seat — all from individual contributors.

“Because the times could not be more consequential, I must take a close look at what is best for our state and nation now that Dino Rossi has entered the race,” Benton said in a statement. “(Sen.) Patty Murray has 6 million special interest dollars in the bank. To defeat her, we must consolidate our resources, and work together to put our country back on the right track. This goal is extremely difficult to achieve when our resources are divided in a closely contested primary between several well-qualified candidates.

“Therefore, since this campaign has never been about me, I have decided to do what is best for my country, my party, and my fellow Washingtonians: I am stepping aside to endorse Dino Rossi,” he said.

Benton entered the race in February, joining a crowd of Republican candidates vying to challenge Murray in her campaign for a fourth term. Most, including Benton, lacked statewide name familiarity, but Benton threw himself into campaigning, hiring staff, setting up a campaign headquarters in Tumwater, and us ing social media on his website. He reported raising $121,000 in the first quarter of 2010.

In recent weeks, he had consistently polled second only to Rossi, the two-time gubernatorial candidate and former state senator, in hypothetical contests with Murray. As early as April, he called on Rossi to make a decision on whether to enter the race, saying his indecision was hurting the other candidates’ ability to raise money.

After Rossi announced his candidacy last week, Benton said he would stay in the race, at least for now.

“My family and I have made many sacrifices in order to run this campaign and to make a difference in our state and nation,” he said. “We are in this to win it in November.”

On Thursday, Benton thanked supporters and said he was proud of the race he had run. “My campaign united thousands of like-minded supporters across this state. We have created a huge grass-roots network, reached over 10,000 fans on Facebook, and gained endorsements from elected officials statewide,” he said.

Rossi’s spokeswoman, Mary Lane Strow, said none of Rossi’s contributions to date are from Republican Party organizations; the entire amount has come from individual contributions, she said.

Several Republicans remain in the Senate race. For his part, Benton continues as a state senator representing the 17th District. And he took the opportunity of his withdrawal announcement to fire off a last shot at Murray.

“I have always fought for small government, low spending, and lower taxes,” he said. “I will continue to fight to reduce the size and scope of government at every level. But this is not what Patty Murray believes in. Patty Murray is spending our money faster than we can give it to her. And whatever she cannot take from taxpayers, she’ll borrow from China, and mortgage our children’s future along with it.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.