Politics 2005Week of June 20

‘The End’ in Washington State—or the Beginning?

The last—absolutely, the last—race for office of ’04 to be decided was that for governor of Washington state. On June 6, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges ruled that 1,678 votes that had been illegally cast would not be subtracted from the total of either gubernatorial candidate. Bridges also dismissed Republican charges of fraud in vote-counting and said that there was no evidence that the illegal vote affected the outcome.

So, seven months after the voting, the victory of Democrat Christine Gregoire over Republican Dino Rossi was final—a margin of 129 votes out of more than 3 million cast, making it one of the closest races for any offices in American history. Although three-term state Atty Gen. Gregoire had been certified the winner by the secretary of state (Sam Reed, a liberal Republican) and moved into the governor’s mansion in January, Evergreen State Republicans cried “Foul!” and took the legal avenue to try to get a new election.

The initial count in November showed staunch conservative Rossi, state senator and small businessman, with a lead of 261 votes. A subsequent recount by machine sandpapered that lead to 42 votes. Then, with contributions from the Democratic National Committee and leftover funds from John Kerry’s losing presidential campaign, the Gregoire camp was able to pay for a third recount, this one by hand. The late discovery of 500 uncounted absentee ballots in heavily Democratic King County (Seattle) finally put Gregoire ahead.

As Gregoire was certified and took office, Republicans took to the courts and to the streets. At one well-attended demonstration at the state Capitol, angry protesters wore orange and waved orange banners—the signature color of Viktor Yuschenko, who was counted out for president of Ukraine in a fraud-riddled election earlier this year and subsequently won a re-run race easily.

“We were all disappointed by the judge’s decision, although it was not altogether unexpected,” former Republican state Rep. Bob Eberle e-mailed me after the ruling. “The judge had set a standard so high that the only way to have absolutely satisfied it would have been to have broken into a hotel room and caught Democrats in the act of marking up phony ballots.”

Eberle, who with wife Claire, a fellow conservative activist, had campaigned for Rossi and participated in the “orange” protests, added that “the court fight was a huge success in that it has virtually proved to the public that the election was stolen in Seattle and King County.”

But are Washington state voters simply going to follow the pattern of the rest of the country and soon forget about the controversial race, dismissing Rossi and his supporters as Al Gore-style “sore losers?” For now, at least, it doesn’t appear that way. A just-completed Strategic Vision poll shows that 59% of voters statewide believe Rossi actually won the election and only 34% believe Gregoire did. The same survey showed that 40% agreed with the judge’s decision, 43% disapproved, and the rest were undecided.

Having conceded the race gracefully, Rossi is the Republican Party’s man to watch. Pundits and pols almost universally agree that he can be the nominee against Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell next year or command the nomination for a rematch with Gregoire in ’08. Strategic Vision’s poll shows Rossi the only one of six probable Republican challengers to ultra-liberal Cantwell (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 12%), who is actually leading the freshman senator—Rossi has 52% to Cantwell’s 40%. In a potential gubernatorial rematch, Rossi leads Gregoire by a whopping 58% to 36% statewide.

Primary Night

There were few surprises in Virginia’s primaries for ’05 state elections. As expected, Atty. Gen. Jerry Kilgore romped to the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Stalwart conservative Kilgore defeated more moderate Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch better than 4-to-1. With Democratic Gov. Mark Warner unable to seek a second consecutive term, the Democratic nominee is Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, generally considered more liberal than Warner. (Warner repeatedly stressed his support of the 2nd Amendment and appeared at NASCAR races, while Kaine participated in the anti-gun “Million Mom March” when he was mayor of Richmond.)

In the race for the GOP nod for lieutenant governor, conservative state Sen. Bill Bolling, an anti-tax champion, edged out moderate Prince William County Chairman Sean Connaughton, who had the strong support of House Government Affairs Chairman Tom Davis (R.-Va.). The Democratic nominee is liberal state Sen. Leslie Byrne, who served one term as a U.S. House member (1992-94) from Northern Virginia. Another anti-tax leader, Delegate Robert McDonnell, will be the GOP nominee for attorney general.

Last year, 17 Republican members of the House of Delegates in the Old Dominion broke party ranks to support Warner’s proposed tax increases. This year, six of the “Gang of 17” were challenged for renomination by anti-tax conservatives. Five survived the challenge. The one loser was Delegate Gary Reese, who was defeated by Chris Craddock, a 26-year-old anti-tax youth pastor.

Outside of Virginia, the only major primary was the nationally watched race for the Republican nomination to succeed former Rep. (1993-2005) Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who had resigned to become U.S. trade representative.

Short Takes

Ackerman Out, Campbell In: If Dino Rossi’s race for governor of Washington was one of the longest-running campaigns for any office, Dick Ackerman’s bid (see “Politics 2005,” June 13) to succeed Rep. Christopher Cox (R.-Calif.) was surely one of the shortest. Two weeks ago, right after President Bush announced he was naming nine-termer Cox as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, California Senate GOP Leader Ackerman signaled he would try to succeed fellow conservative Cox in the special election that will follow Cox’s anticipated confirmation and resignation from Congress. Within days, Ackerman had lined up a score of endorsements from Republican office holders in the Orange County-based 48th District and pledges of $100,000.

Last week, Ackerman floored supporters by announcing that he would not run for Congress when Cox leaves, that he prefers working with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento to serving in Washington. Privately, sources close to the legislator told me Ackerman was nervous that he could not raise the money to compete in a primary that may cost a winning candidate millions. As one party activist who requested anonymity told me, “Dick could not match the endorsements he was getting with money and, with [former state Sen.] John Lewis and [present state Sen.] John Campbell able to underwrite campaigns personally, he decided it wasn’t worth it.”

As it turned out, Lewis announced he won’t run, but Campbell—a strong conservative who had been planning to succeed Ackerman as minority leader—will make the race. Conservatives who feared that some of their best-known leaders would cut each other up and permit liberal former Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer to win a crowded primary are now breathing a bit easier.

A Sense of History: That’s what faithful subscriber Daniel Fox of Columbus, Ohio, has.  In the May 23 “Politics 2005,” I said that three former governors in the last half-century went on to serve as state legislators after they left the governor’s mansion. Fox, however, points out that actually five former governors made this unusual political journey: In addition to the three we mentioned—Julian Carroll in Kentucky, James Coleman in Mississippi and Vermont’s Phil Hoff—there were, as Fox points out, Democrat Lawrence W. Wetherby, governor of Kentucky from 1950-55, who was elected to the state Senate in 1965, and Republican John W. Brown, the lieutenant governor of Ohio who served a few weeks as governor in 1957 after Democratic Gov. Frank Lausche was sworn into the U.S. Senate, and then was elected to the state House in 1958 and the state Senate in 1960. I stand corrected.