Big reversal in Pierce County key for Gregoire
(News Tribune, The (Tacoma, WA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 9--Change is coming to Washington, D.C, but not so much to Washington state.
Gov. Chris Gregoire defeated Dino Rossi by a litigation-proof margin last week, riding a wave of Democratic support for presidential candidate Barack Obama. Closer to home, U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn avoided the wave by winning re-election over challenger Darcy Burner in a finish reminiscent of his narrow 2006 victory over Burner.
But just because the campaign is over doesn't mean all of the wrangling is finished.
The state Public Disclosure Commission is investigating three complaints spawned by the governor's race -- two alleging wrongdoing by Rossi and one alleging wrongdoing by Gregoire.
The Building Industry Association of Washington, which spent millions in support of Rossi, is still a defendant in two campaign-related lawsuits, including one that required Rossi to submit to a deposition in the final week of the campaign.
And political observers -- many of whom expected the governor's race to be close enough that it would take days or weeks to determine the outcome -- will be studying the results for a while, looking for clues to Gregoire's success and Rossi's failure.
BIG SWING IN PIERCE COUNTY
Pierce County was considered an important battleground in the governor's race, and Gregoire was ahead by about 5 percentage points Friday afternoon. That's a big reversal from 2004 when Rossi won the county by about 4 percentage points. Gregoire ultimately won election by just 133 votes out of 2.8 million.
Because of the state's "top two" primary, there was no third-party candidate on the ballot this year. In 2004, Libertarian Ruth Bennett captured 63,000 votes statewide, including about 2.3 percent of Pierce County ballots -- a little more than 7,200.
But even if all of the Bennett votes went to Gregoire, it doesn't fully account for her gain in Pierce County.
"A 17,000-vote swing -- that's just cool," said Nathe Lawver, chairman of the Pierce County Democratic Party.
As of Friday afternoon, the swing was actually greater than 17,000 votes: Gregoire was ahead by more than 9,000 votes, compared with 2004 when she lost by a little more than 12,000 votes.
Both Gregoire and Rossi spent a considerable amount of time campaigning in Pierce County.
Lawver said he believes Gregoire's message of protecting children, her commitment to the environment and job creation resonated with voters. He also credited Gregoire's campaign with starting work earlier to make connections with key constituency groups, and following through with the hard work of spreading Gregoire's message.
"They were not going to take Pierce County for granted this time," Lawver said.
Deryl McCarty, chairman of the Pierce County Republican Party, was surprised by the outcome. The party had done some polling about 21/2 weeks before Election Day that predicted the exact opposite of the results, he said. In the end, a large number of voters who said they would vote for Obama and Rossi ended up voting for the Democrat in both races rather than splitting their vote, McCarty said.
McCarty credited Gregoire for taking a risk by supporting Obama early in the presidential race rather than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Looking back, McCarty found no regrets. Both candidates had plenty of money, and both did a good job of campaigning throughout the state.
"Everybody did everything approximately right," he said.
Snohomish County also reversed course dramatically this year. Gregoire was ahead by nearly 10 percentage points as of Friday morning; she lost that county by about 2 points in 2004. Some other less-populous counties that favored Rossi in 2004, including Clallam and Skagit, also reversed course and went with Gregoire this time.
Gregoire even gained significantly in King County, the Democratic stronghold that favored her by 17 percentage points in 2004. This year, Gregoire was winning King County with nearly 65 percent of the vote -- some 30 percentage points over Rossi.
Clark County, which voted for Rossi in 2004, appeared to be siding with Gregoire on election night this year, but was back in Rossi's column as of Friday afternoon.
NEGATIVE AD BLOWBACK?
The amount of negative advertising might have contributed to Gregoire's victory, according to some observers.
Both campaigns -- and their surrogates -- launched plenty of attacks ads, but polling done for the University of Washington shows that people perceived Gregoire to be a victim of more attacks than Rossi, said Matt Baretto, a UW political science professor.
Negative ads often are effective, but if the volume of attacks reaches a certain level then there can be blowback, Baretto said.
"Given that Rossi spoke to the camera in most of his commercials, few voters delineated between negative attacks coming from his campaign or from special interests," Kelly Evans, Gregoire's campaign manager, wrote in a post-election memo.
McCarty, the Pierce County Republican Party chairman, disputed the theory, saying, "They both gave as good as they got."
BUILDERS FACE COURT CASES
While the election is over, lawyers will continue battling for months over the Building Industry Association of Washington, the conservative business group that pumped millions of dollars into an independent campaign aimed at electing Rossi.
Seattle attorney Knoll Lowney, a Democratic activist, is involved in both lawsuits.
One of those cases drew lots of attention in the final week of the election when it required Rossi to submit to a deposition. That case, brought by two retired state Supreme Court justices, alleges that the BIAW is a political committee and should report its contributions and expenditures like other committees, Lowney said. It also alleges that Rossi improperly coordinated with the group to raise money for his campaign before he officially announced his candidacy.
Rossi and the BIAW denied any wrongdoing, and an angry Rossi sparred with the plaintiff attorneys in the deposition.
If the former Supreme Court justices prevail, it would mean the BIAW would have to fully report its financial activities in future campaigns, and possibly result in a financial penalty, Lowney said.
"Nobody would have to guess whether the group has $7 million to throw into the race," he said. "We could see all their financial affairs. ... Currently it's just a big black box."
The other lawsuit against the builders group is about how it gets its money. The plaintiffs argue that the BIAW improperly took a percentage of insurance refund money without permission. If the BIAW loses that case, Lowney said it would "change the way they do business, that's for sure."
Erin Shannon, a spokeswoman for the BIAW, said Friday that both lawsuits are a "farce" and "politically motivated," adding that she doesn't believe much will come from them.
"If they continue to pursue them, we will continue to defend ourselves," Shannon said. "We're confident when the dust settles we will be absolved of any wrongdoing, as will Dino Rossi."
INVESTIGATING CAMPAIGN CLAIMS
The state Public Disclosure Commission, which enforces campaign finance laws, is continuing three investigations stemming from the governor's race.
Two cases involve complaints against Rossi. One claims he worked with the BIAW to raise money. The other alleges that credit was extended to Republican campaigns -- including Rossi's, Attorney General Rob McKenna's and Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland's -- for commercial airtime, said Lori Anderson, a PDC spokeswoman.
The third investigation involves a complaint alleging that Gregoire received contributions from out-of-state political action committees that weren't eligible to give money, Anderson said.
MORE THAN $43 MILLION SPENT
All of that campaigning -- and all of those negative ads -- cost a lot of money.
Between the Gregoire and Rossi campaigns and the independent groups on both sides, the race cost more than $43 million, according to the PDC.
Gregoire's campaign spent slightly more than Rossi's -- $12.4 million to $11.2 million. But independent groups spent $11.7 million attacking Gregoire compared with $6.1 million attacking Rossi, according to the PDC.
Evans, Gregoire's campaign manager, credited her campaign for being able to "repel nearly 20 million in negative advertising."
"It is rare in politics that you win so handily," Evans wrote, "while being outspent by an astounding $5 million."
Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542
In her 2008 rematch with Dino Rossi, Gov. Chris Gregoire was able to increase her margin of votes in counties across the state -- but especially in the vote-rich Puget Sound area. This chart shows the percentage point gains and losses in Gregoire results from 2004 to 2008 as of 7:15 p.m. Friday.
Pend Oreille- 2.33
John Henrikson, The News Tribune
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