The last chance Dino Rossi and Christine Gregoire had to influence how a vote was cast in the governor's race was Election Day, Nov. 2. But the campaign machinery grinds on, with...

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The last chance Dino Rossi and Christine Gregoire had to influence how a vote was cast in the governor’s race was Election Day, Nov. 2. But the campaign machinery grinds on, with lucrative fund raising and dizzying spin, as if it were just another fall day on the election trail.

There are all the literal signs of a campaign. A huge video billboard on Interstate 5 near Fife is flashing a “Christine: Concede” message to commuters.

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The fund raising is to pay for a recount and for lawyers — lots of them.

Republicans raised money from some of the same people who financed the campaign of Rossi, who has been certified as governor-elect. But now, donors who were barred from giving more than $2,700 to the Rossi campaign have no limits, and a couple of wealthy backers have given $50,000 donations to the recount effort.

Most of the Democratic money came from out of state as the Gregoire campaign for a recount became a national cause célèbre. That brought money from the Democratic National Committee, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, supporters of Howard Dean and members of the political-action committee MoveOn.org.


No end to PR


The public-relations campaigns can seem inexplicable. Just who are they trying to influence and to what end? It’s too late for voters. Vote-counters? Judges? Perhaps, with Democrats organizing a rally outside the state Supreme Court tomorrow before the justices hear arguments in the party’s recount case.

Sometimes it seems the spin comes almost as muscle memory for the PR people, after a year of jabbing at each other and monitoring the news to be ever-ready with instant response.

“From a corporate perspective, this would fall into the category of what we call reputation management,” said Kurt Jacobson, president of JayRay, a Tacoma-based public-relations company.

“What they’re doing will not drastically change the outcome,” Jacobson said. “I think what the parties are doing is trying very hard to look good no matter what the result is.”

The political parties and the remnants of the gubernatorial campaigns have several targets.

They are trying to make a case to donors. People with money have to believe the fight they’re financing is at the very least a just cause, if not realistically winnable.

And as in the pre-Nov. 2 campaign, there are different messages aimed at the political parties’ corps of true believers and the much wider voting public.

“We’re in trouble with our base if they don’t think we did enough,” said Kirstin Brost, the spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party and a prodigious news-release writer. “We’re in trouble with the voters we want to reach out to, if they think we did too much.”

There has been heavy pressure from the party faithful in the state and around the country as Democrats react to John Kerry’s loss to President Bush and lingering hard feelings about Al Gore’s concession to Bush in 2000.

“We have to explain ourselves every step of the way,” Brost said.

Democrats have the greater challenge. Rossi won the initial count by 261 votes, a margin narrowed to 42 after a machine recount, and he was named governor-elect.

Democrats have had to run an aggressive effort to find missed votes for Gregoire through a self-financed hand recount and litigation. Their lawsuit seeks to compel counties to reconsider ballots that had previously been rejected, and they are trying to do it without looking like they are gaming the system.

“Democrats could have a hard time maintaining their image and winning,” Jacobson said. “They can either be a graceful loser or a bruising winner.”

The two parties’ messages are summed up best in the rallies they have organized.

Democrats have their “Count Every Vote Candlelight Vigil.”

Republicans counter with a “Don’t Change the Rules Rally.”

The Democratic message machine has focused on making the race appear as tenuous as possible. Gregoire calls it a tie. She and her supporters point out that the “governor-elect’s official office remains vacant” — because space had to be found for both candidates and their transition teams. Gregoire and supporters say the race is “far from over.”

To help in the effort, the party announced Friday it had hired an additional public-relations staffer to work just through the end of the recount.

Republicans have focused on making Rossi’s standing as governor-elect look as firm as possible, and at the same time painting Democrats’ actions as attempts to steal the election.

They say Gregoire wants to “grab the governor’s office by lawsuits and illegitimate ballot-counting,” is intent on “blowing up the entire election process in this state” and wants to “sue her way” into office.

“What Christine Gregoire is saying is, ‘It’s a tie. It’s too close to call. We don’t know who the governor is.’ Yes, we do. The governor-elect has been certified, and that’s Dino Rossi,” said Mary Lane, Rossi’s communications director and main author of the Republican message since Election Day.

“They want to undermine public confidence and raise doubt about who the governor-elect really is. We have to counter that.”

Republicans, too, are communicating with their base, Lane said. The party wants to keep its faithful engaged, in part for a ready pool of volunteers to help observe the recount.

Both sides say they have about as many people working now as during the election, but the bulk of the campaign staffs are being paid by the political parties.


Money flows freely


Neither side seems to have had much trouble raising money.

Democrats, who have to pay for the current statewide hand recount, say they’ve collected more than $1 million.

Kerry’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee each contributed $250,000. Another $250,000 was raised in 24 hours after an appeal from the PAC operated by MoveOn.org, a liberal group that was active in the presidential campaign.

Fund-raising solicitations were sent out by the party and Gregoire, who wrote to donors: “Do not let this election slip through our fingers. We are only 42 votes away from victory in Washington, and we are confident that once all the votes are counted, we will win this race.”

Republicans say they’ve raised almost a half-million dollars since the election. State records show almost $300,000 of that has come in since Dec. 1, most from Washington state donors.

State records show that people who were restricted to donating no more than $2,700 to Rossi during the election were much more generous when the recounts started. The law does not limit contributions to political parties for ballot counts.

Martin Durkan, a lobbyist who has contributed to Democratic candidates in the past, including Gov. Gary Locke, said he was courted by both parties for money. He donated $50,000 to the Republican Party, saying he was a friend of Rossi’s: “I’m a Dinocrat.”

Other big donations to the Republican Party include $50,000 from John Stanton, chief executive of Western Wireless, who donated $2,500 to Rossi’s campaign before the election; and $25,000 from Craig McCaw, a high-tech entrepreneur and cellphone pioneer who gave $1,350 to the campaign before the election.

The lack of a limit on contributions helped the party raise money quickly, said state Republican Chairman Chris Vance. “We got on the phone and said, ‘We need the money, we need it now,’ and we got it.”

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com

Times staff researcher Gene Balk

contributed to this report.