These days, King County Council President Larry Phillips is routinely slagged as the poster child for an unfair electoral system. It wasn't always that way. After Phillips realized his vote had been erroneously rejected last December, he was celebrated as a savior of the system by Dems--and by the local media. His discovery, after all, led county officials to hundreds of other erroneously rejected ballots that eventually--and rightly--got counted.

But within days, Republicans turned the tables. They began using Phillips to hammer the county, claiming that officials bent over backward to count the vote of a Democratic politician while military heroes risking life and limb in Iraq were being callously disenfranchised because they received their ballots too late. "It's been quite an experience," Phillips says of the Republican barrage. "It's all part of a giant, well-orchestrated campaign. Everyone is singing from exactly the same page."

These days, that page contains one word: REVOTE!

In the last several weeks, supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi have controlled the airwaves and the headlines by mounting an aggressive campaign to question the integrity of Christine Gregoire's narrow 129-vote win. In the process, they have impressively turned a pipe dream--the call for a revote--into the desire of a substantial majority of the public.

For years, liberals have complained that the right has a huge political advantage because of its ability to drive press coverage by creating a media echo chamber. Conservative partisans develop talking points, which are then picked up and amplified by the conservative media and, when the drumbeat of attacks reaches critical mass, spread from there to the mainstream press. Dems end up on the defensive, in a no-win position where efforts to refute the allegations end up spreading the original claim.

We're seeing it in action in Washington State. Start with Sound Politics, a conservative blog that has become a popular conservative clearinghouse for information about possible election irregularities, particularly in King County. Lead blogger Stefan Sharkansky stresses his independence, but Republican Party stalwarts slaver over his every word: from the registrations of hundreds of voters at the King County administration building, to allegations that King County cannot account for thousands of "mystery voters" who cast ballots, to the first discoveries of two dead voters who cast ballots (which led to a breathless headline in the P-I last week)--all originated on Sharkansky's blog.

Republican Party Chair Chris Vance reads the site, describing it as "the official website of the recount." He's not the only one: Traffic on Sound Politics has mushroomed from a couple hundred visitors to close to 20,000 a day over the course of the recount/ revote battle.

Sharkansky's posts--many built on a base of actual facts, albeit leavened with a heavy dose of partisan spin--immediately get trumpeted not only by Vance, but on conservative radio talk shows like those of fellow KVI hosts Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson. Both have relentlessly been pushing the idea of a revote. "The blogs and talk radio have been leading the mainstream media on this," Wilbur contends.

Rossi backers have made other slick moves. Public relations executive Sharon Gilpin, a Dinocrat who has done some work for Rossi's campaign, on December 31 launched an online petition drive calling for a revote. Endorsed by former Republican Governor Dan Evans, has received substantial press coverage, and Gilpin has collected close to 200,000 signatures in less than two weeks.

And the Building Industry Association of Washington, an aggressively pro-Republican lobbying group, has done its own investigation of the voting rolls, which it has promptly touted in radio and newspaper ads.

The media barrage has worked: According to a KING 5 poll released on January 3, 56 percent of the public believe Rossi was the real winner of the election. Only 35 percent said the same of Gregoire. And 59 percent of the public supported a revote.

In the end, it is not clear the Republican effort will accomplish much. On Wednesday, Gregoire will be inaugurated governor. Whether she stays governor will be decided by the courts, not the public. But as Vance points out, "Even judges are human beings. They read newspapers too."

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