updated 11/30/2004 4:50:28 PM ET 2004-11-30T21:50:28

Republican Dino Rossi was certified as the winner Tuesday of Washington’s race for governor, but the closest gubernatorial contest in state history is far from over.

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“A recount is almost a certainty,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state’s chief elections officer.

Reed declared Rossi defeated Democrat Christine Gregoire by just 42 votes out of 2.8 million cast. But on Friday, the Democrats are expected to request a hand recount of some or all of the ballots. That could extend the uncertainty until Christmas.

Some are even worrying about whether a winner will be known in time for inauguration on Jan. 12. Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, did not run for a third term.

Gregoire, a three-term attorney general, had been forecast to win with ease. But Rossi, a real estate millionaire and a former state legislative power, edged Gregoire in both the regular count — by 261 votes — and in the machine recount completed last Wednesday.

“Right now, the state is divided smack down the middle,” Gregoire’s spokesman, Morton Brilliant, said Monday. “If all the ballots aren’t counted, we will go through the next four years with one candidate’s supporters not believing the winner was legitimately elected.”

He added: “It’s worth taking three weeks to have four years of legitimacy, and that’s what is at stake.”

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