If there's one number that haunts Democrats and Republicans in the final week of this election, it's 133. That's the margin of victory for Gov. Christine Gregoire over Dino Rossi four years ago.
If there’s one number that haunts Democrats and Republicans in the final week of this election, it’s 133. That’s the margin of victory for Gov. Christine Gregoire over Dino Rossi four years ago.
That razor-thin outcome, arrived at after two recounts and a lawsuit, led both parties to examine 2004 vote results to see if they could’ve done anything differently.
Both camps found something surprising: Gregoire did worse than expected in heavily Democratic King County, and Rossi did worse than expected in the Republican stronghold of Eastern Washington.
New University of Washington research shows just how big the gap was. In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry got 75,000 more votes than Gregoire in King County. And in Eastern Washington, Republican President Bush got about 8,500 more votes than Rossi.
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Given how close the race was four years ago, those “lost” votes could play a deciding role this year.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties, and their supporters, say they’ve learned their lesson: They’ve launched unprecedented efforts this year to turn out voters.
Democrats want voters to keep going down the ballot to Gregoire after checking off Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Rossi, who has tried to position himself as a “change” candidate, wants to attract independents and crossover Democratic votes and turn out as much of his Republican base as possible.
Hundreds of volunteers and paid staff are blanketing the state to canvass neighborhoods, and phone banks are popping up everywhere to make evening calls urging support for their candidates.
“We’re not going to take King County for granted. We’re not taking anywhere for granted,” said Kelly Steele, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party.
State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser said the same.
“There’s been a tendency to say in some parts of Eastern Washington, ‘Well, they’re going to vote Republican anyway, so we don’t need to worry about them,’ “he said. “By the same token, sometimes there’s a sense of ‘We’re not going to win in Seattle or Tacoma so don’t worry about that.’ “
The reality, Esser said, is they need every vote they can get.
Matt Barreto, a political-science professor at the University of Washington, said research done by one of his doctoral students suggests Gregoire had a bigger problem motivating her base than Rossi did four years ago.
Even in Seattle, the center of power for Democrats in this state, Kerry got 27,400 more votes than Gregoire.
Adding to her problems, Rossi did better than expected in Seattle, pulling in 17,000 more votes than President Bush, according to numbers pulled together by doctoral student Loren Collingwood for the Washington Poll at UW.
It’s likely that many of the Seattle voters who went for Rossi voted for Kerry at the top of the ticket, Barreto said.
The implication for 2008: “The city is prime Democratic turf, yet she could lose the election here by not motivating her base the same way Obama will do,” Barreto said.
Gregoire, Barreto said, would be smart to focus on King County and Seattle in the final week and plaster images of herself and Obama everywhere. “It should be the centerpiece of her campaign,” he said.
Gregoire backers seem to agree.
“We are going to be spending more time this year than four years ago talking to voters in traditionally Democratic areas to make sure they just don’t vote for Obama but also vote for the governor and congressional candidates,” said Adam Glickman, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union 775, (SEIU), which is backing Gregoire.
The SEIU has teams canvassing neighborhoods in King County and elsewhere in the central Puget Sound region, handing out fliers with large pictures of Obama and Gregoire that read “Barack Obama and Gov. Christine Gregoire: On our side.”
SEIU members Alisha Gregory-Davis and Sally O’Neill went door to door in Auburn neighborhoods last week urging people to vote for Democratic candidates straight down the ballot.
Most of the time, people are receptive and sometimes “there are folks who are like ‘enough already’ or ‘get away from my door,’ ” O’Neill said.
They clearly weren’t the first campaign workers in this neighborhood.
Bryan Howard, 43, a commercial landscaper, said he’s gotten several knocks on his door.
“The first one was for Obama and last one for Darcy,” he said, referring to Darcy Burner, the Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District.
When O’Neill dropped by on behalf of Gregoire, Howard launched into an attack, saying the governor didn’t do enough to keep the Sonics basketball team in Seattle. But O’Neill fought back, talking about positive things she felt Gregoire has done.
Howard ended up saying he wasn’t sure how he’d vote because he wasn’t happy with the Republican Party either. “It’s tough,” he said. “That’s why I’m so undecided.”
Neither Gregoire’s campaign nor the state Democratic Party was willing to discuss exactly how many people they have knocking on doors, or making phone calls.
Steele said the state Democratic Party’s get-out-the-vote effort was roughly double that of 2004, with 22 offices throughout the state, and a larger presence in King County.
“We plan to make over one million phone calls,” Steele said. “We’re going to knock on thousands of doors across the state.”
Get out the vote
Barreto said Rossi has been making the right moves in Washington, arguing during his campaign that he isn’t a Bush acolyte.
And compared to Gregoire, he didn’t have as big of a problem in 2004 motivating Republicans to vote.
Although the GOP feels Rossi could have won more votes in Eastern Washington, overall he did better than Bush four years ago.
In fact, Rossi got 68,000 more votes statewide than Bush. That includes about 50,000 more votes in King County than the president. The GOP attributes that to a motivated base, plus independents and Democrats voting for Rossi.
Still, the Republican Party feels Rossi could do even better this time.
“We’re doing phone calling and mail pieces and e-mailing and door knocking and just about everything we can think of to remind people” to vote, Esser said. “If we could tie some string around their fingers, we’d do that, too.”
Esser said the party’s get-out-the-vote operation is about a third larger than in 2004. Jill Strait, Rossi’s spokeswoman, said that in Seattle alone, their effort is twice as big as it was in 2004.
The campaign has a phone bank in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood with volunteers staffing phones in a small room with a giant elephant painted on the wall.
They all read from the same script urging people to vote for Rossi and other Republicans on the ticket.
There was no mention of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Glenn Avery, 62, who lives in Queen Anne, volunteers at the phone bank once a week, estimating he calls a couple of hundred people each time. He also goes door belling on weekends.
Going door to door is especially important in Seattle, where Republicans often feel outnumbered, he said.
Sometimes they think they’re the only Republican in their area and Avery will point out a nearby neighbor who also supports the GOP. “It encourages them to know that we’re alive,” he said.
“In a statewide race, it’s important to remind people that Seattle can make a difference,” he said. “We want to get them out of the bunker.”
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org Seattle Times reporter Noelene Clark contributed to this story.