November 5, 2004 in City

Gregoire widens lead in cliffhanger

Richard Roesler Staff writer

OLYMPIA _ It’s going to be a nail-biter.

Democrat Christine Gregoire’s narrow lead in the race for governor grew slightly Thursday. But both her campaign and that of Republican challenger Dino Rossi predicted that it could be a week or more before Washingtonians know who their next governor will be.

“Like everyone else, we’re waiting and watching,” said Gregoire spokesman Morton Brilliant. “The only result that will matter is the one when all the votes are counted. It’s out of our hands.”

By 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Gregoire’s lead over Rossi stood at less than 1 percent: 16,114 votes out of more than 2 million cast.

“We’re still feeling good,” said Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane. “We definitely feel like that (lead) is going to close up.”

Under state election law, the last day to certify votes is Nov. 17.

The tight race caught Democrats by surprise, after months of polls showing Gregoire ahead. She’s a well-known three-term attorney general; he’s a state senator who started the campaign with little name recognition outside the Seattle suburbs he represented.

By far the largest chunk of votes left to be counted – an estimated 178,000 – is in King County, where Gregoire was easily beating Rossi. But tens of thousands of uncounted ballots remain in places where Rossi beat her.

If Election Night trends hold, state Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt said Wednesday, Gregoire will win by 10,000 votes. Republicans, pointing to an apparent surge in support for Rossi during the campaign’s final days, are hoping that those late ballots swing toward Rossi.

“We did a little better, percentage-wise, with the Spokane (County) numbers,” said Lane. “We still feel like we’re trending up.”

The stakes are big. It now looks like both houses of the Legislature will have Democratic majorities. Depending on who wins the governor’s race, Democrats may face either a potent ally or a veto-wielding foil.

Passing the tense hours, Gregoire spent Thursday with her family. She called supporters and stopped at her Seattle campaign office to thank the workers.

Rossi also spent part of the day phoning and thanking supporters. Lane said he was also pleased to finally have time to clean out his garage.

“He’s said he has a honey-do list about as long as his arm,” she said.

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