OLYMPIA – Despite the collapse of Republicans’ six-month, $2 million-plus court fight for the governor’s office, the head of the state GOP insisted Tuesday that the party did the right thing.
“I stand by everything we said,” said state party Chairman Chris Vance. “I think the public believes we were right to contest this election.”
Vance spoke a day after a Chelan County judge ruled that despite hundreds of illegal votes and errors in November’s election, Republicans had failed to show that those problems cost their candidate the race. Gov. Christine Gregoire won by 133 votes, the judge ruled.
On Monday night, the Republican candidate called a halt to the legal fight. Given the ruling and “the political makeup” of the high court, Dino Rossi said, he didn’t see any way he could win in court.
Despite that defeat, Vance said Tuesday that Rossi is politically stronger than ever. Post-election speculation has centered on a possible Rossi run for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s seat next year – something Rossi has sounded lukewarm on – or a rematch against Gregoire in 2008.
“The Democrats are scared to death of Dino Rossi,” Vance said, speaking at a Tukwila press conference covered live on TV news broadcasts. “I’ve seen the poll numbers. He’s the most popular politician in Washington state.”
Democrats said Rossi’s decision came too late.
“The time for a graceful exit was six months ago,” state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said in a written statement. Rossi’s long court battle was a “waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
The fight also cost the parties dearly. Berendt said the Democrats spent about $3.5 million after Election Day. Vance said that he didn’t have an exact figure, but that Republicans had expected the battle to cost $2 million to $2.5 million.
Vance on Tuesday called for further election reforms, particularly in King County. And state lawmakers, he said, should reconsider the statutes for challenging an election. If you have to try to prove how every illegal voter voted – which is the standard Judge John Bridges called for – then it’s virtually impossible to win, Vance said.
Vance said the party is now focusing on its battles in the 2005 and 2006 elections. But, he said, the party will watch for future election problems.
“We are going to be 10 times as diligent now,” he said. “Now we know what to look for.”