OLYMPIA, Wash. – Republican Dino Rossi (search) held onto his lead in the Washington governor's race Wednesday by a mere 42 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast after a statewide recount in an election that has become one of the most intriguing story lines of this political season.
Rossi's campaign declared victory and urged Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire (search) to concede, saying there is no point in dragging the state through a third count. "It's time for our state to move forward," said Rossi, whose campaign started calling him "governor-elect."
But Democrats said they want another recount, meaning the outcome of the nation's last undecided race for governor may not be known until Christmastime. Gregoire told reporters and supporters in Seattle, "Every vote should be counted. The race continues. A 42-vote margin, my friends, that is a tied race."
The recount that wrapped up Wednesday was done by machine. The campaigns or their parties can now request a hand recount in some or all the counties, but they have to pay for it.
Rossi, a self-made real estate millionaire and former state Senate budget chairman, was the underdog throughout the campaign, but he emerged with a 261-vote lead after the initial vote tally ended last week. The margin was so tiny that it triggered the automatic recount.
It is the closest gubernatorial election in Washington history.
The vote-count drama has provided an endless source of fascination for political junkies, and it even attracted the attention of national parties and the White House, which dispatched its election experts to the state.
Secretary of State Sam Reed (search), the state's chief elections officer, said he plans to certify the machine recount on Tuesday. The campaigns or their parties have three business days to request a full or partial manual recount at their own expense.
Reed said he would probably direct that such a recount begin Dec. 6, and that the job could last until about Christmas. If a partial recount changes the outcome, state law requires a manual recount in the rest of the state. That would extend the uncertainty past Christmas. Inauguration day is Jan. 12.
Gregoire said the Democratic party has indicated that it is willing to pay for the recount. A statewide recount would cost the Democrats about $700,000.
Rossi, 45, was hoping to become the first Republican since 1980 to get elected governor. He ran on a platform of change and job-creation and billed himself as a "conservative with a social conscience."
"As far as we're concerned, Dino has won. Dino has won twice," said a jubilant Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane. "It remains to be seen what Christine Gregoire will do after losing two counts."
Gregoire, 57, was hoping to become the state's second woman governor. She carried eight of the 39 counties, most notably the largest, King, which includes heavily Democratic Seattle. Gregoire was strongly backed by the women's movement and was best known for battling America's tobacco industry.
King County gave Gregoire a last-minute lift, but not enough to put her over the top.
More than 700 previously uncounted ballots were added in King County after election workers, under the close watch of party observers, "enhanced" ballots to reflect voters' intentions. Those could include, for example, ballots on which a voter circled the candidate's name, rather than filling in the oval for an optical scanning machine to read.
The winner succeeds retiring two-term Gov. Gary Locke.