Washington State's gubernatorial race hinges on 735 erroneously rejected ballots in King County. Last week, Republicans got Pierce County Judge Stephanie Arend to bar King County from counting the ballots. A reversal in the state supreme court could easily follow (Arend is no legal eagle; she was rated only "minimally qualified" by the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar in 1999). Then, perhaps, Republicans will take the struggle to federal court, and it is just possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could ultimately decide. Or not. Who knows?

That is all in the future. Right now, after six weeks of counting (and recounting) we do know some people who are coming out ahead, and others who are taking a bath as all of the hoo-ha drags on (and on, and on). So here is a partial scorecard of the count so far:

LOSER: Dean Logan, head of King County Elections. With the recent revelations that the county screwed up by failing to count what appear to be 735 valid ballots--more than enough to swing the race--he's getting pounded. Even Logan's former boss, Secretary of State Sam Reed, took a shot at him in the Seattle Times, decrying King County's "problem of execution." Ouch! The problem is that King County has an atrocious track record of conducting elections dating back to the notorious Julie Anne Kempf era, which Logan was supposed to clean up. Looks like he's got a lot more work to do.

LOSER: Ralph Munro, former Republican secretary of state. Munro was all for the results of this election standing--until it looked like his guy, Dino Rossi, might lose. Now he's talking up the possibility of a revote. Here's a thought: Maybe Munro would be taken a little more seriously if he hadn't attended Rossi press events to demand that Gregoire concede, like the one outside Rossi's Bellevue headquarters on November 24.

WINNER: Larry Phillips, King County Council president. His discovery in the midst of the manual recount that his absentee ballot had not been counted could well be the silver bullet Gregoire needed to slay the big, bad Republican wolf. When King County officials checked on Phillips' complaint, they discovered they had erroneously rejected not just his, but 734 other ballots in the first two counts. Phillips is being hailed as a hero by Democrats, and he's been joyously bashing the Republicans for trying to disenfranchise him ever since. "If [Republican Chair] Chris Vance or [Attorney General-elect] Rob McKenna had discovered their vote had been thrown out, they'd squeal like stuck pigs to get their votes counted," he pointed out to The Stranger. Which is not only true, but also a nice turn of phrase for a King County council member you've probably never heard of.

LOSER: Either U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell or King County Exec Ron Sims. If Rossi loses this race, there is already speculation that he will run against Cantwell in 2006. A narrow winner over Slade Gorton in 2000, she is going to be vulnerable, and Rossi, who is obviously that rare Washington R who can win statewide (he's done it twice) will have tremendous name recognition--and voter sympathy. On the other hand, rumors have been circulating in Democratic circles that if Gregoire loses, she has raised the possibility of relocating to King County to take on Sims for county exec next year. The two clearly do not like each other, and remember, she trounced Sims in the gubernatorial primary, including in King County.

WINNERS: Republican Party Chair Chris Vance and Democratic Party Chair Paul Berendt, at least for now. Both party honchos have been getting a lot of camera time and press quotes, as they've led their partisan armies into battle. Republican Party Chair Chris Vance has admittedly sounded a little hysterical in recent days, but his allegations of shady acts by biased officials in King County plays right to the assumptions of his base; for instance, he told the P-I he was "trying hard not to call Dean Logan a liar," which was his not-so-subtle way of calling Logan a liar. Earlier, he bashed King County in the Times for engaging in either "gross incompetence or vote fraud." Democrat Berendt has been front and center too, for instance crying in public after a judge upheld his bold and timely lawsuit, ordering King County to turn over the names of 900 provisional ballot voters whose ballots were on the verge of being thrown out during the initial count.

The risk for both leading men is this: Whichever team ultimately loses will want a scapegoat, and either Vance or Berendt may end up playing the role of John the Baptist (as in, having his head served up on a platter).

LOSERS: Dino Rossi and Chris Gregoire. This is one of those weird situations where the eventual loser in this race may end up better off than the winner (see Cantwell/ Sims entry above). Whoever wins is going to be seen as illegitimate by a huge chunk of the population. If Rossi wins, it will likely be because more than 700 legitimate King County voters will be disenfranchised by the courts, and then he'll have to face a Democratic legislature in no mood to play nice. If Gregoire wins, it will be after most of the state decided she lost on the basis of the results of the first two counts, and she'll have a tough time shaking the resulting governor-of-Seattle image.

BIGGEST LOSER: Stranger politics writer Sandeep Kaushik. While it was long ago evident that he is a total fool, the discovery of King County's ballot counting error makes his call for Gregoire to concede after the first recount ["Lose. Recount. Spin." Dec 2] look truly stupid.

[News Editor's Note: No shit, Sandeep. ]

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