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Murray, Rossi hit road in final push for votes

OLYMPIA — Democratic incumbent Patty Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi wrapped up their road trips today as volunteers on both sides lit up phone lines and knocked on doors — even in chilling fall weather — to drum up every vote they could muster.

With state officials estimating about half the expected ballots already returned, get-out-the-vote efforts focused on ensuring friendly ballots would be submitted by Tuesday’s postmark deadline. Ballots will trickle into county offices for days afterward, potentially delaying clear finishes in several closely watched races.

Secretary of State Sam Reed was projecting a turnout of 66 percent, or about 2.4 million voters.

They also were choosing favorites for all nine U.S. House seats and deciding a near-record number of ballot measures, including an income tax on the wealthy and restraining the Legislature’s ability to raise taxes. A long list of legislative and local contests also littered the ballot.

The Senate race dominated the discussion, drawing millions in spending from both the candidates and outside interests hoping to shape national politics. The Murray-Rossi contest is among a handful of competitive races that could determine which party controls the Senate for the rest of President Barack Obama’s term.

Both candidates were on the traditional bus tour of Washington locales in the campaign’s final days. Rossi spent the day approaching from the south, with stops in Vancouver and Puyallup. He planned to end the night with a rally in Bellevue.

Murray made her way from the north, with stops in Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Everett and Edmonds, at the headquarters of travel guru Rick Steves. Her final event was a free concert in Seattle, home to the most hardcore Democratic voters.

The brass-tacks politicking was being handled in busy call centers and on last-minute voters’ doorsteps as Democratic and Republican volunteers and staffers tried to ensure their supporters were voting.

Washington state has solidified its preference for Democrats in statewide federal elections during the past decade, but the turnout game was expected to tip the balance in the Senate race.

Republicans said they’d made 160,000 phone calls to voters over the weekend, while Democrats reported they’d knocked on more than 100,000 doors and placed about 75,000 phone calls.

At his Puyallup event, Rossi said 2010 had a different feel than his past elections, including two second-place runs at the governor’s mansion.

“This is the first time I haven’t had to run in a presidential year. I don’t have to wear anybody else’s baggage. It’s very different,” Rossi said. “What I’ve also found … is that when people are broke and out of work, they’re willing to listen to some other ideas.”

Murray said she found no lack of Democratic enthusiasm on the road, with hundreds packing a rally in the middle of the workday in Mount Vernon.

“I’m really feeling energized,” she said. “They understand what’s at stake in this election and they are saying to me, ’We want you to keep fighting for our state and keep being our voice and our advocate.”’

Many were bracing for the possibility of a drawn-out vote count, particularly in the federal races. If that happens, and national political questions await the outcome, Washingtonians can expect plenty of attention.

“You can drop your ballot into the mail as late as eight o’clock” provided it gets a Tuesday postmark, Murray noted. “You know, this is Washington state. And we’ll see what happens tomorrow night.”

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