Republican Dino Rossi on Wednesday won a recount for Washington governor by just 42 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast, but Democrats were expected to order yet another recount.
A statewide machine recount left Rossi clinging to the narrowest victory ever in a state gubernatorial race over Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire. Rossi had also won the regular count, his 261-vote margin just a tiny fraction of 1 percentage point, triggering an automatic recount.
In the final Thanksgiving Eve flurry of vote tallies, Gregoire gained ground on Rossi in Democratic-leaning King County and picked up votes in Kitsap County, completing the 39-county tally in a near tie.
Even before the last big surge of ballots was tallied, Democrats had signaled they would seek a hand recount in at least part of the state if Gregoire ended up on the short end.
GOP urges Gregoire to concede
The Republicans called on Gregoire to concede and not drag the state through a third count that could take a month or more.
“As far as we’re concerned, Dino has won. Dino has won twice,” said a jubilant Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane. “It remains to be seen what Christine Gregoire will do after losing two counts.”
But even before the last big surge of ballots was tallied, the Democrats had signaled they would seek a hand recount in at least part of the state if Gregoire ended up on the short end. Democrats said afterward that they were still weighing their options.
Gregoire told reporters and supporters in Seattle, “Every vote should be counted. The race continues. A 42-vote margin, my friends, that is a tied race.”
Democrat's last-minute lift
King County gave Gregoire a last-minute lift, but not enough to put her over the top. She gained 593 votes in the final tally, to Rossi's 348, with the 245-vote gain helping her erase most of the advantage he had built up elsewhere.
Observers for both campaigns anxiously awaited results. When they were released early Wednesday afternoon, calculators were quickly put to work to see if the race had flipped to Gregoire.
Across Puget Sound, Kitsap County released unofficial results that showed Gregoire gaining 15 and Rossi losing 19 votes.
Gregoire, 57, of Olympia, hoping to become only the state's second woman governor, carried eight of the 39 counties, most notably the largest, King, which includes heavily Democratic Seattle.
Gregoire, strongly backed by the women's movement, is best known for battling America's tobacco industry.
Rossi would be first GOP governor in 24 years
Rossi, 45, a self-made real estate millionaire and former state Senate budget chairman from the Seattle suburb of Sammamish, is hoping to become the first Republican since 1980 to win the governor's mansion. He ran on a platform of change and job-creation.
The winner succeeds retiring two-term Gov. Gary Locke on Jan. 12. Locke is the country's first Chinese-American governor.
The nation's last unsettled governor's race has drawn the attention of both national parties, including the Bush White House, which dispatched its election experts, and the Democratic Governors' Association, which had offered to help finance a new hand recount of at least part of the state.
Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state's chief elections officer, said he plans to certify the machine recount next Tuesday.
The campaigns or their parties have three business days to request a full or partial manual recount at their own expense.
Second recount would begin Dec. 6
Reed said he'd probably direct that such a recount begin the following Monday, Dec. 6, and that the job could take as long as two weeks.
If a partial recount changes the outcome, state law requires a manual recount in the rest of the state. That would extend the uncertainty past Christmas.
More than 700 previously uncounted ballots were added in King County after election workers, under the close watch of party observers, “enhanced” ballots to reflect voters' intentions. An example would be a ballot on which a voter circled the candidate's name, rather than filling in the oval for an optical scanning machine to read.