For Gregoire, no doubt about it this time

No recounts, no contest and no court case.

Not this time.

The race for governor ended Wednesday when Republican Dino Rossi conceded to Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and acknowledged he trailed her by too large a margin to overcome.

By early evening, he was behind by more than 100,000 votes and losing in 14 counties including Snohomish and Pierce, places he won in 2004 when the candidates battled in a historically close election.

“I am extremely proud of the campaign we have run,” he said at his campaign headquarters in Redmond with his wife, Terry, at his side. “Our state faces some difficult times ahead, and I wish Christine Gregoire the best of luck in seeing Washington state through these challenges.”

The abrupt conclusion likely startled Rossi supporters expecting a long wait for a final outcome, as occurred in 2004 when Gregoire beat Rossi by 133 votes following three ballot counts and a court challenge.

Rossi, who called Gregoire before announcing his decision, said getting a resolution “is a good thing.”

With two-thirds of ballots from across the state counted Wednesday, Gregoire led 53.6 percent to 46.3 percent, collecting 975,838 votes to Rossi’s 841,740

In Snohomish County she led 55.5 percent to 44.2 percent, garnering 106,196 votes to his 84,573. Gregoire’s edge after Wednesday’s count dipped less than 1 percentage point from election night.

“This is one of the more gratifying days I’ve had these last four years,” a slightly hoarse Gregoire told reporters in Seattle on Wednesday. “It was a difficult race, no question about it. It is time for us to put it behind us.”

She actually claimed victory election night with a 4-point lead and very few ballots tallied in King County, the state’s most populous and one she will win handily.

She said Rossi offered his help in their conversation and “I told him I would take him up on his offer.”

Everything pointed to this rematch being extremely close. Poll after poll since 2004 showed no slippage in support for either candidate.

That meant most of the focus in this $45 million race has been on winning over thousands of new voters. Secretary of State Sam Reed estimated 3 million people will have cast ballots compared to 2,810,058 who did in 2004.

In the end, Rossi found himself swimming against a tide of voters exhausted by the eight-year reign of President Bush and enthused by the message and personality of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“It’s pretty simple. Bush, Bush, Bush and more Bush,” said Chris Vance, former chairman of the state Republican Party.

“Regular, older and middle-aged voters had had enough of George W. Bush and Republicans, all Republicans. Dino just could not overcome it,” he said.

As Bush repelled voters, Republican presidential candidate John McCain did little to attract them as he mounted less of a campaign in Washington than Bush did in 2004.

Regardless, Rossi’s campaign motored along, steering clear of the national party figures as they did four years ago.

But he couldn’t escape the national climate.

In early October, financial markets collapsed, stocks plummeted, banks failed and the fallout reached the governor’s race.

“The last calamity of the Bush administration did in Dino Rossi,” Vance said.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, a Democrat, called it a turning point.

“Up to that point Dino had done a very effective job blaming the state’s economic slowdown on Chris Gregoire,” said Reardon, a Democrat. “Then the financial markets collapsed and that idea was debunked.”

Last month, as ballots got mailed out, the effect of the Obama candidacy started taking root.

People energized by the Obama organization got the message to vote Democrat all the way down the ballot, said Mary Lane, communications adviser to the state GOP.

“Gregoire’s people will tell you she won because she did a lot for the state but the fact is she lucked out having Barack Obama at the top of the ticket,” she said.

Obama deserves credit for adding folks into the electorate who ultimately backed Gregoire, said Paul Berendt, a former state Democratic Party chairman.

They did so for more reasons than just her party label, he said.

“They understood Rossi really believed in much of the George Bush agenda and that he was not the change agent he said he was,” Berendt said.

Gregoire, who endorsed Obama during his primary fight, worked hard to keep her name linked with Obama’s throughout the campaign. She invoked his name several times in Wednesday’s news conference and spoke at a podium on which was attached a placard bearing both their names.

On Wednesday, she said it wasn’t just Obama.

She said polling done by her campaign detected a shift of voters away from Rossi as they heard of his ideas about a lower minimum wage and reduced unemployment benefits. It happened in October.

“The voters had a clear choice. They clearly saw some very distinct differences,” she said.

Rossi didn’t offer any reasons for the outcome.

“Ask the campaign people about that. It looks like we’re not going to be able to make up (the vote) gap,” he said.

Rather he focused on the lasting impact the campaign will have on Gregoire’s second term.

“Christine Gregoire made an ironclad promise not to raise taxes or fees to balance the budget,” he said. The public will need to hold her to that promise, he said.

Asked about his future plans, he said he will return to the business world and “has no intention at this time” of running for political office again.

“When I told people I was happy before I got into politics and I’ll be happy after, it’s exactly what I meant,” he said. “This ‘happy after’ is some good things are going to be happening to the Rossi family. I’m going to be home tonight for dinner. That’s a good thing.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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