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Washington State Looks Set to Vote Kerry

Sen. John Kerry (searchhas a lot of worries in the closing days of the presidential election, but Washington state is not one of them.

President Bush has all but abandoned television advertising in the state and hasn't paid Washington a visit since June. The presidential battleground has shrunk to about a dozen states, and neither campaign counts Washington state among them.

"We were only marginally a battleground state to being with," said Democratic state party chairman Paul Berendt (search). "We're in good shape because George W. Bush isn't the kind of politician people of Washington like. They don't like cowboy politics, this evangelical edge he has."

His Republican counterpart, GOP chair Chris Vance (search), predicted a close race that will hinge on turnout. Though senior Bush advisers no longer agree with that assessment, they began the campaign with high hopes for Washington state because of the close 2000 results.

Then-Vice President Al Gore won the state with 50 percent and Bush had 45 percent. Independent candidate Ralph Nader (searchhad 4 percent, and he's back on the ballot this year.

The state was hit hard by the recession, and the Sept. 11 attacks struck at the heart of Washington's airline industry. The state's unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, higher than the national average, and 5,800 jobs have been lost since Bush took office.

BY THE NUMBERS:

11 — Electoral votes.

70 — Percentage of voters expected to cast ballots by mail under the state's liberal absentee voting law.

2 — Open U.S. House seats, due to departure of Republicans Jennifer Dunn and George Nethercutt. The two seats are among the most competitive in the country.

6.2 — Unemployment percentage, above the national average of 5.4 percent but better than the state's 7.7 percent of a year ago.

5 — Women on the nine-member state Supreme Court, the first female-majority in the state's history.

QUOTABLE:

— "I think he (Bush) has done a good job with what he got dealt. He came into office after eight years of nonsense and affairs, then 9/11 happened. I think he's done an excellent job. He has great morals, a nice family, very human." — Nancy Clayton, 45, Tumwater, a supervisor at a grocery.

— "It's all about what happened with the Iraq war. We should never have gone there in the first place. Everything else seems tied into the war. I'm not happy about the economy and if we had been spending all this money at home on education and health care instead of overseas, he would be like a god. So I'm in a mode of 'anybody but Bush."' — Vern Schager, 51, a Bainbridge Island engineer.

NOTABLE:

Washington could become the first state to have a female governor and both U.S. Senate seats held by women. Attorney General Christine Gregoire, a lead negotiator in the tobacco settlement between the states and the industry, leads her Republican rival. Sen. Patty Murray leads Nethercutt. Sen. Maria Cantwell faces the voters in two years.

An HIV-positive woman, Judith Billings, is running for her old post of state school superintendent. She faces another woman, two-term incumbent Terry Bergeson, whom she defeated in 1992. Billings retired after learning she had contracted the AIDS virus when she was artificially inseminated.

Washington hasn't voted Republican for president since 1984.

WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:

Republicans will try to roll up huge margins in Eastern Washington. Democrats will do the same in vote-rich King County (Seattle), and many races will be decided in the independent suburbs outside of Seattle.

Washington voters love to legislate by initiative. One this year would raise taxes — a penny sales tax hike for education — while another would lower the state property tax by authorizing and taxing off-reservation electronic slot machines.

FOUR YEARS AGO:

Democrats won all but two of Washington's statewide offices and all but three congressional seats and knocked off Republican Sen. Slade Gorton. Al Gore carried the state's 11 electoral votes. Washington was one of Ralph Nader's better states, with over 4 percent of the vote.