Recount triggered in down-to-the-wire governor race
OLYMPIA, Wash. – The closest governor’s race in Washington history was forced into a recount Wednesday as counties finished tallying the ballots and found only a few votes separating the candidates out of 2.8 million cast.
Republican Dino Rossi held a mere 261-vote lead over Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire after all counties reported their final tallies to the state. A recount is required by state law when there is less than a 2,000-vote margin.
“Making history isn’t easy,” Rossi said, smiling widely as he spoke to reporters outside his campaign headquarters Wednesday night. He thanked his wife, children and other family members, joking: “I’ve got a lot of relatives – probably about 261!”
Wednesday was the deadline for counting the ballots.
The recount means Washington voters will have to wait until next Wednesday to find out who their next governor is – a stunning scenario considering the experts never thought it would be this close. Gregoire was considered the favorite.
“We really aren’t going to know before we do this recount who the governor is going to be,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican who will oversee the recount process. “I feel sorry for Attorney General Gregoire and Senator Rossi.”
Washington is one of two states (the other is Alaska) that allow voters to mail ballots on Election Day, so votes have trickled in at an agonizingly slow pace.
As political junkies across the country have recovered from their presidential election withdrawal, they have turned to the Washington governor’s race for entertainment. Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat who is stepping down after two terms, said he has “never seen anything like this before.”
“It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s like a two-week playoff series. But it’s a lot more important than a ballgame,” said Joe Arko, a Texas doctor who has been following the Washington election religiously on the Internet.
The election is reminiscent of the 2000 U.S. Senate race in Washington that took several weeks of counting and recounting before Democrat Maria Cantwell was declared the winner over Republican incumbent Slade Gorton.
Washington is a Democrat-leaning state that has not elected a Republican governor since 1980. John Kerry won the state with 53 percent of the vote, Locke easily defeated Republican opponents in the past two elections, and Democrats control the Legislature.
So why is this election so close?
Gregoire was the Democrats’ Wonder Woman. Polished and popular, the 57-year-old attorney general won national recognition as lead negotiator of the national tobacco settlement in the late 1990s. But her campaign struggled to find a message that resonated with voters.
Rossi, meanwhile, surprised everyone with a slick, strong campaign that painted him as a compassionate conservative. The 45-year-old Rossi, a wealthy real estate agent, lacked name recognition outside his district, but his promise of a fresh start in state government caught on with voters.