It isn’t every day that Washington State news makes the front page of the New York Times: Democrat Wins by 130 in Latest Washington Count. Usually, the only time we make the front page is when Boeing lays off 40,000 workers and practically shuts the lights off as it moves its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago. We’d certainly make the front page if Mt. St. Helens blew up again–even better if Mt. Rainier blew and the lava flow swept through downtown (as it will inevitably do sometime in the next few million years). But then again, it isn’t every day that 3.5 million voters decide a governor’s race by 130 votes. The Times calls it “a race that is the closest in state history and one of the closest in the nation’s history.” I’d like to know if anyone can find a governor’s race with such a minuscule margin or an election in which 3.5 million voted and the margin was 100 votes!
Washington State governor-elect Christine Gregoire (credit: Elaine Thompson/AP)
The Washington State governor’s race has been the unlikeliest electoral contest one could imagine. No Republican has won this race since 1980. Both U.S. senators are Democrats. Western Washington is one of the most liberal areas in the nation. But Christine Gregoire actually let Dino Rossi come within a whisper of winning this thing. She was a terribly weak candidate. First, she carried a record of serious mistakes in her previous job as State Attorney General. It appeared that she let Rossi outspend her on TV ads (though I haven’t researched how much each candidate spent) which allowed his campaign to bust out of obscurity. Gregoire ran a tepid primary campaign against a well-intentioned, but unenergized opponent (Ron Sims). She had no issues and didn’t even want to debate. She carried this indecision and torpor into the general election. So a post that should have been hers for the taking she almost lost. It’s a crime that Rossi was even able to make this campaign a horse race.
Rossi led at the close of the November 2nd election by some 250 votes. Democrats were heartbroken because in addition to George Bush’s victory (Washington voted handily for Kerry), Republicans won most of the statewide elective offices. It seemed with Rossi’s apparent victory that there was a Republican landslide. But a later statewide machine recount mandated by the narrow victory margin narrowed Rossi’s lead to some 50 votes. That’s when the fun and games began. The state Democratic Party raised $2 million for a hand recount hoping against hope that someone somewhere would find 51 Gregoire votes to turn the tide. After the King County (Seattle) elections board released their results Wednesday, Gregoire was ahead by 10 (count ’em, 10!) votes. The elections board also found 750 votes which it had erroneously disqualified on the grounds that the ballots had no corresponding valid signature on file. The State Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that those votes too should be counted. At the end of the day (today, that is), Gregoire won by 130 votes–out of 3.5 million votes cast. Someone’s got to figure out for me what are the odds of an election of this magnitude being decided by a margin of this minitude: it’s crazy, preposterous, but hey, we’ll take it.
Dino Rossi made a highly caustic statement today which indicated that he did not accept the results and viewed Gregoire as an illegitimate winner: “I’m sure that people across this state want a clean election and a legitimate governor-elect. At this point, we have neither.” I can’t blame the guy for being ticked off. Here he’s thought from November that he was the winner and now the King County elections board and Supreme Court seem to have wrested the spoil from his outstretched grasp. Gregoire’s administration is starting out on an awfully sour note. It will be extremely hard for her to overcome the bitterness engendered by this process. I don’t know how you do it. But if I were her, I’d do the exact opposite of Bush in 2000. I’d reach out to every Republican elected official I could with every olive branch I could find. I’d act as governor as if I had a duty to speak on behalf of every citizen whether Republican or Democrat. I’d try to make as many Republicans as I could feel that I took their interests and issues extremely seriously. I’d do a Clinton.
But I fear that Gregoire doesn’t have that kind of political nimbleness. I’d love for her to prove me wrong.