Gov. Christine Gregoire, seeking a second term in the seat she barely won four years ago, kicked off her re-election bid today with a sentimental...

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Gov. Christine Gregoire, seeking a second term in the seat she barely won four years ago, kicked off her re-election bid today with a sentimental stop: The hometown diner where her single mother worked as a short-order cook.

It’s the same working-class backdrop Gregoire used to launch her first campaign for governor, and she faces the same Republican opponent, former state Sen. Dino Rossi. But the Democratic incumbent hopes that’s where the similarities end.

Gregoire, who served 12 years as state attorney general, squeaked into the governor’s mansion four years ago by just 133 votes, after three ballot counts and a six-month court battle.

Today, Gregoire said she would take the state forward and smartly manage her way through potential budget deficits, while a Rossi administration would cut programs favored by Washingtonians. Without mentioning the president’s name, she said Rossi’s approach to running the state would look a lot like the Bush administration.

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“Do we want a governor who says there is hope, that every family, every child ought to have hope, a governor who sees greatness in the state of Washington? Or a person who comes and says nothing but criticism and fear-mongering?” Gregoire asked.

“I am the governor who’s going to stand up, make the tough choices, bring hope and greatness to the state of Washington, be responsible in how we manage and make us the proudest state in this entire country,” she said.

Gregoire has charted an expansive agenda in her first term, with more state spending on education, health care and the environment, including a 15-year plan to clean up Puget Sound. She’s also sought to foster a better climate for business, and touts glowing reviews by the national financial press.

Growing Democratic majorities in the Legislature and an expanding state economy fueled by the housing industry have helped Gregoire in her first term, but she now faces tougher financial times as the economy cools.

Rossi and the GOP have pounced on that fact, pointing out that a 33 percent increase in state spending since Gregoire took office appears to have the state budget headed for a deficit of $2 billion or more.

In a statement, Rossi said Gregoire has been reckless with the state’s treasury, and said he would preside over a government that is more responsive to the everyday taxpayer.

“Christine Gregoire has the taxpayer credit card, and we are getting stuck with the bill. And if re-elected, she will raise taxes to spend more of our money,” Rossi said.

Gregoire’s quest for a second term has never been in doubt, and she’s been a candidate in all but name for months. Rossi has been running since last October, after nonstop begging from GOP leaders who didn’t have a realistic second option.

The two candidates have piled up impressive campaign accounts, with buzz that the contest’s overall price tag could reach $20 million by November.

Gregoire has raised about $4.7 million overall and still has about $2.9 million on hand, according to campaign finance reports through the end of February. Rossi has raised about $2.9 million, with about $2 million still in the bank.

After visiting her late mother’s old Rainbow Cafe, Gregoire planned a formal campaign speech at a minority-owned Auburn technology business. She then boards a luxury biodiesel-powered campaign bus to attend rallies in Tacoma and Vancouver.

Gregoire’s five-day tour also includes visits to Yakima, the Tri-Cities, Spokane, Bremerton, Port Townsend, Everett and Seattle.

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