Court May Decide Wash. Gov. Race

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The rhetoric is heating up as Republicans and Democrats prepared for a Supreme Court showdown over the still-undecided Washington state governor's race.

Democrats called Gov.-elect Dino Rossi a "thief," while Republicans continued to disparage the discovery of 700-plus "magic ballots" in the Democratic stronghold of King County last week.

Those ballots from King County, home of Seattle, the state's largest city, could erase Republican Dino Rossi's current 49-vote margin and put Democrat Christine Gregoire in the lead at the end of a hand recount.

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court will decide whether those ballots should be counted.

If the court says King County may not include the new ballots in the hand recount, five other counties could also be affected. Snohomish, Whatcom, Kittitas, Chelan and Pierce counties all added ballots in either the first or second recount.

A lower court judge on Friday granted the Republican Party's motion for a temporary restraining order preventing King County from counting the ballots.

The result of the governor's race has been mired in controversy since Rossi won the Nov. 2 election by 261 votes and held a slim lead over Gregoire after the first, machine recount.

Washington leans Democrat and has not elected a Republican governor since 1980. Presidential candidate John Kerry won the state with 53 percent of the vote; the current governor, Locke, easily defeated Republican opponents to serve two terms; and Democrats control the Legislature.

Gregoire, 57, looked like the Democrats' Wonder Woman. Polished and popular, Gregoire won national recognition as lead negotiator of the 1997 tobacco settlement, in which major tobacco companies agreed to pay $206 billion to 46 states. But after a bruising primary, her campaign struggled to find a message that connected with voters.

Rossi, on the other hand, wasn't the GOP's first choice by a long shot. Republicans tried to recruit three other prospects. They wanted someone with a higher profile than the 45-year-old who lacked name recognition outside his Senate district. The commercial real estate agent surprised the party faithful, though. He ran a slick, strong campaign identifying him as a compassionate conservative. And his promise of a fresh start in state government caught on with voters.