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In Wash. State, Democrat Takes Office Despite Suit

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2005; Page A02

SEATTLE, Jan. 12 -- Christine Gregoire's furniture was lugged into the governor's mansion early Wednesday morning, and she recited the oath of office shortly after noon.

But the freshly inaugurated Democratic governor's grip on the job she won by the tissue-thin margin of 129 votes remains wobbly, as Republicans press state courts to order a new election and embarrassing reports of votes cast by felons and dead people keep burping up in local newspapers.

Democrat Christine Gregoire, with her family, is sworn in as governor of Washington state at the Capitol in Olympia by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry L. Alexander. (Elaine Thompson -- AP)

A majority of voters in Washington state have told pollsters they do not believe the election is over or that Gregoire, a three-term state attorney general, has legitimately defeated Republican Dino Rossi, a former state senator and wealthy real estate agent.

Helping to fuel discontent, the Republican National Committee is pouring money into the state for lawyers, prime-time television spots and the organization of street protests. The Democratic-controlled state legislature turned back Republican efforts this week to postpone the inauguration.

Gregoire, 57, said in an interview that she would not let questions about the legitimacy of her victory interfere with doing her job.

"I keep getting asked, 'What's the mandate?' Well, what was the mandate for President Bush?" she said. "We have to move on. We cannot allow the closeness of the election to prohibit us from being bold. That is what George Bush did."

Coming into the election last fall, Gregoire, who made her name as attorney general by winning large settlements against tobacco companies, had been the favorite to win. But she ran what she now concedes was not a strong campaign, and she said in the interview that she did not "make sure voters knew who I am."

Gregoire, in her inaugural speech, seemed to try to reintroduce herself to the state. She noted that her mother was a short-order cook. She mentioned that she is a survivor of breast cancer. She said that she and her husband, Mike, are "getting poorer by degrees" by sending two daughters to college.

After the Nov. 2 election, Gregoire trailed by 261 votes out of nearly 3 million votes cast. After the first recount, she was behind by 42 votes. State law allowed a third count, by hand, and Gregoire won it last month by 129 votes.

Since then, according to a survey conducted by independent Seattle-based pollster Stuart Elway, 52 percent of Washington voters said that they would rather have a new election than have judges or the legislature decide who won.

A new election is exactly what Rossi is demanding and what Republican Party lawyers will start arguing for on Friday before a lower-court state judge.

Taking advantage of the red-blue political split that divides this state, much as it divides the entire country, Republicans have chosen to escape the Democratic voters and judges in the Seattle area and make their legal arguments on the arid east side of the Cascade Mountains, in thinly populated but solidly Republican Chelan County.

Whatever the local judge decides, the Republicans' lawsuit -- which claims that the number of illegal votes counted and proper votes rejected is enough to make the outcome of the election unknowable -- is certain to go to the state Supreme Court. It has already ruled twice on ballot issues since the election -- once for Rossi, once for Gregoire.

Gregoire said that her reading of state law is that, absent fraud, "there is no provision for a do-over."

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