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Gubernatorial Race In Wash. State Elicits That Deja Vu Feeling

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi play nice after a debate last month in Yakima, Wash. Rossi lost their 2004 face-off by 133 votes.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi play nice after a debate last month in Yakima, Wash. Rossi lost their 2004 face-off by 133 votes. (By Kris Holland -- Associated Press)

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By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 1, 2008

SEATTLE -- In Washington state, all the elements are in place to make Nov. 4 feel a lot like Feb. 2. Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi are running for governor, and polls show a dead heat.

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"It's pretty amazing. It was a dead-even tie four years ago, and most polls show it a dead-even tie this time," said Todd Donovan, a political scientist at Western Washington University. "There's a 'Groundhog Day' kind of thing to it."

In 2004, it took two months and three recounts to determine which candidate Washington voters had selected as their governor. Rossi, a Republican, was certified the winner first. But it was Democrat Gregoire who went on to spend the next four years in the governor's mansion, after a judge ruled that the final recount could include ballots discovered six weeks after voting ended. The official margin of 133 votes was .00475 percent of the 2.8 million ballots cast.

Rossi retreated to his commercial real estate business, wrote a book and awaited the rematch now unfolding across a state that has seen it all before. "Re-elect Rossi," read buttons in the overflow crowd that recently greeted the candidate in Silverdale, across Puget Sound from the governor's Seattle stronghold.

"We're going to finish what we started, folks," Rossi told the crowd. "Because of your help, we're going to win."


Gregoire smiled a knowing smile in the booth of the diner where her mother worked as a short-order cook in what remains of downtown Auburn, now a Seattle suburb.

"Anger is a powerful incentive," the incumbent said, noting that Rossi's supporters spent four years simmering with him. "In June, people were pretty well locked in to where they were four years ago."

"It never ends -- literally," said Stuart Elway, a Seattle pollster. "This is a governor's race that's been going on for five years!"

In fact, a fair amount has changed since Round One. Gregoire has a record to defend. As governor, she has increased spending on education, health insurance for children and the environment. The expansion in government, including a rainy day fund, accompanied a surging state economy that added a quarter-million jobs and doubled exports.

The irrepressibly cheerful Rossi highlights his experience as a businessman and a successful budgeter, citing his work as chairman of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee. He calls Gregoire, who has worked only in state government, a captive of unions. She casts him as a hard-hearted conservative whose amiable sales patter obscures a social agenda out of line with the state's residents.

With the state government facing a $3.2 billion deficit amid falling tax revenue, the race sizes up as yet another referendum on whom to blame for the hard times voters see rumbling toward them.

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