On Wednesday, November 24, the long-running gubernatorial vote count frou-frah took its latest twist, with reporters racing between hastily organized press conferences from rival sides: the Rossi Republicans gathered in undertaker-dark suits outside an anonymous office park in Bellevue, of course, and the boisterous, semi-hysterical Gregoire Democrats at Town Hall in Seattle (of course). Both sides were spinning the media, the Republicans making the case that Rossi had won, the Dems that the count must go on. It was all very reminiscent of a race in a different state four years ago.

The burst of activity came as recount results were finalized Dino Rossi's lead over Democrat Christine Gregoire was now a mere 42 votes--out of more than 2.8 million cast statewide. So were Gregoire and the Dems in a conciliatory mood after having lost two ballot counts, thus clearing the way for the installation of the first Republican governor in Washington State in 20 years? Yeah, right.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gregoire, egged on by cheering campaign staffers and other supporters, vowed to fight on by demanding a second recount, this one by hand. Flanked by daughter Courtney on her right and former Governor Booth Gardner on her left, Gregoire declared that, "my friends, it is a tied race," and said, vaguely, that she was disturbed by reports of "a number of anomalies" in the counting. (Subsequent investigations by the Secretary of State has taken the steam out of Gregoire's claims.)

Campaign manager Tim Zenk, mingling with supporters in the audience, echoed Gregoire. "This is an absolute tie," he told The Stranger. "They're there. There's lots of votes out there. We know if they count every vote, [Gregoire] wins." To their credit, Zenk and Gregoire appeared feisty, confident, and determined, and seemed to be itching to fight on, a welcome change from the cringing weakness of Democrats past--and from the ultra-cautious take-no-chances tepidity of the Gregoire campaign, which said little and inspired almost no one, prior to November 2.

Of course, now it may be too late. But even if the Democrats are right that a hand recount will shift the vote tally in their favor--and that is a very big if--they will have won only part of the battle.

What Democrats face now by fighting on is more than a political donnybrook, or even a legal struggle over recount procedures (both Democrats and Republicans have already brought lawsuits over aspects of the first two counts). They must also negotiate a public relations minefield. Already, there exists an intense undercurrent of anti-establishment sentiment among the state's voters--and not without reason (think Tim Eyman). The state's political class, dominated in recent decades by Democrats, is widely seen as arrogant, out of touch, and willing to run roughshod over the people's will to help their own.

Even though the Democrats correctly assert that the Republicans would be demanding a second recount if they were in the same position, as the counting drags on, public relations issues will increasingly move front-and-center for, and not to the Dems advantage. Republicans have a simpler, and therefore more effective, argument: Rossi has won not once, but twice, and Gregoire should concede for the good of the state, thus ensuring a smooth transition to a Rossi administration. If she doesn't, the Democrats are to blame as the state descends into Florida-style chaos.

At the Republican press conference on Wednesday afternoon, outside Rossi's campaign headquarters in Bellevue, R's pulled out some big guns to make their case. Most notable among the attendees were respected Republican moderates Dan Evans and Ralph Munro, a former governor and secretary of state, respectively. Evans likened the governor's race to a marathon: Even "if the winner finishes one half-step ahead, there's no question in people's minds who won."

Gregoire's every-vote-should-be- counted line sounds good, but was seriously undercut when Dean Logan, head of King County elections, told reporters that the just completed machine count was likely to be more accurate than a hand count. And Gregoire's "sacred" battle to protect voting rights sounds sinfully tainted by partisan ambition. Plus, Dems have not committed to a full statewide recount, which would cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars that they may not have. But if they ask only for a partial count, cherry picking votes in pro-Gregoire areas, they will look like what they are: partisan hacks trying to overturn an election result that did not go in their favor.

Judging from the reaction of my colleagues, who are whacked-out Dem ultra-partisans, the best Dem argument was made by former Governor Gardner. He stated that on Wednesday morning he had visited Gregoire's campaign office intending to urge her to concede should Rossi emerge ahead in the recount. Then he decided if the margin was truly close--fewer than 100 votes--he would endorse a second recount. But even if Gregoire prevails now, she will be seriously weakened, her legitimacy in question with a huge chunk of the electorate. And the Republicans will attack relentlessly, claiming a stolen election. As Republican Party Chair Chris Vance told me last week, "All we have heard from the Democratic Party is that they intend to count this again and again until they get the result they want."