Washington roundup: As Gov. Christine Gregoire is projected the winner, Republican Dino Rossi said the race is too close to call. State voters approve assisted suicide, turn down opening HOV lanes.

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Supporters of Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire broke into loud cheers at the Westin Hotel in Seattle tonight as word came that news organizations projected her the winner in her re-election bid against Republican Dino Rossi.

Her celebration came as Washington voters also joined in Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s historic presidential victory over Sen. John McCain. In Seattle, thousands of people poured into the streets near the Pike Place Market and on Capitol Hill tonight, celebrating Obama’s win.

State voters, meanwhile, adopted a proposal to allow assisted suicide for the terminally ill, rejected an initiative to open HOV lanes to all traffic in “off-peak” hours and approved a measure requiring training and licensing of long-term care workers.

Sound Transit’s $17.9 billion Proposition 1 to expand light rail and add additional train and bus service was leading in all three counties in which it was on the ballot — King, Pierce and Snohomish.

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In the 8th Congressional District, expected to be the hottest U.S. House race in the state, Democratic Darcy Burner took an early lead in her rematch against incumbent Republican Dave Reichert.

Gregoire leads

A confident Gregoire told her supporters that if Obama can get elected president and the daughter of a short-order cook can be elected governor, “Every one of our children can do anything and everything they want to do.”

The Associated Press and other news organizations projected Gregoire the victor — with strong leads in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The Rossi campaign said late tonight the race is too close to call.

“At this hour, fewer than 50 percent of ballots have been counted statewide. We saw in 2004 and again in the primary this year that later votes cast and counted trended heavily toward Dino Rossi,” said Rossi spokeswoman Jill Strait. “… The Rossi campaign simply does not feel that we are in a position to know who will win.”

The main trend in Gregoire’s favor: She is leading Rossi in most of Western Washington, including the state’s population centers of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. In 2004, Rossi was ahead in statewide returns at this point in the election.

But there are still thousands of votes to be counted, especially in King County.

This year’s race, in which Rossi and Gregoire combined to spend more than $23.6 million, was widely anticipated to be close. In 2004, the lead seesawed back and forth with Rossi leading after the initial count and a machine recount, and Gregoire taking the lead after a second recount, done by hand.

The final tally in that election — with Gregoire winning by 133 votes, out of more than 2.8 million cast — wasn’t official until a ruling by a Chelan County judge in June 2005.

A Republican has not been elected governor of Washington since John Spellman in 1980.

Bergeson trailing

Incumbents fared well in statewide offices, with the exception of Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, narrowly trailing challenger Randy Dorn.

In the race for state treasurer, with no incumbent, Jim McIntire held a slight lead over Allan Martin.

Incumbents projected to be re-elected were Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, Auditor Brian Sonntag and Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

In the race for attorney general Democrat John Ladenburg conceded defeat to Republican incumbent Republican Rob McKenna.

Also holding leads were Secretary of State Sam Reed, and Land Commissioner Doug Sutherland.

“Robust voter turnout”

More than 83 percent of the state’s 3.6 million registered voters likely voted, said Secretary of State Sam Reed. He said it’s possible, once the final totals are in, that turnout will surpass the state’s record of 84.5 percent, set in 1944.

“Clearly a lot of it is the presidential race,” Reed said. “People are very passionate about it, one way or the other. We have no incumbent president so it’s wide open, and we’ll have either the first African-American president or the first woman vice president.”

Turnout was also boosted, Reed said, by the tight governor’s race and the fact that 37 of the state’s 39 counties cast mail-in ballots, with only King and Pierce counties still operating polling places. Eighty percent of all votes statewide were expected to be cast by mail.

“If you have that ballot sitting there at your home, you’re more likely to put it in the mail than go to a polling place,” Reed said. But he added that both King and Pierce counties saw “robust voter turnout” today, a fact that could boost statewide participation to record levels.

“Obama is Moses for us”

With the national media calling the election for Obama shortly after 8 p.m., the party started early at bars, ballrooms and churches for Democrats. They cheered recapturing the White House and the election of the country’s first African-American president.

At the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Seattle, dozens of churchgoers shared a potluck dinner and watched election returns on a large-screen television.

“Obama is Moses for us,” said Dorothy Steele, 74, a church steward. “We have been waiting 200 years for this. I didn’t think I would ever see this in my lifetime.”

Other ballot issues

Despite the tough economic times, Seattle voters were approving by large margins property-tax levies to expand parks and fix up Pike Place Market. A parks levy in Bellevue also was leading in early returns.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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