Rossi: A sizable statewide lead by 8:30 p.m. and he wins.
  • E.S.
  • Rossi: A sizable statewide lead by 8:30 p.m. and he wins.
Shortly after 8 p.m. tonight, counties around Washington State will start posting returns in all of the initiative fights and statewide races, including the closely-watched U.S. Senate contest between Republican Dino Rossi and Democratic incumbent Patty Murray.

King County, the biggest trove of votes in Washington, promises to have its count up by 8:15 p.m., right here.

Now, let's talk for a moment about what we'll be getting from King County tonight. The county's elections office is expecting a huge turnout, with 68 percent of voters casting ballots (in raw numbers, that's 720,000 ballots).

More than half of those ballots—400,000—have already been returned, but because of the time it takes to process them the county only expects to report on about 350,000 ballots in its 8:15 p.m. results posting.

Once that 8:15 p.m. posting happens, that will be it for the night for King County. The next results won't come until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday (and 4:30 p.m. on every other day thereafter until all the King County counting is done).

Now, here's why the details of King County's tabulation plans are important: If the U.S. Senate race is as close as recent polls are suggesting, and if things break the Republicans' way around the country, leaving control of the entire U.S. Senate hanging on results in Washington State, then everyone in America is going to be waiting for King County's uncounted ballots—about 370,000 of them if projections are correct—to be counted.

Yikes.

However.

We'll only be biting our nails over 370,000 ballots in King County if the race between Rossi and Murray is very, very close statewide. Zoom out to the bigger Washington picture and you can see why. This state has 3.6 million registered voters, and Secretary of State Sam Reed expects 66 percent of them—or 2.4 million—to cast ballots. So:

Murray: About to be saved by King County?
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  • Murray: About to be saved by King County?
If, sometime after 8 p.m. tonight, when initial results from all the counties are in, we see Patty Murray leading Dino Rossi statewide, game over, Murray wins. The remaining votes in liberal King County are only going to help her, and will far outnumber any conservative votes still to be tabulated elsewhere in the state.

If, instead, we see a statewide Rossi lead of around half a million votes when initial results from all the counties are in, game over, Rossi wins. But! That's only if his lead is that sizable (around half a million votes). A much narrower Rossi lead in the initial counting probably translates into a Murray victory once all of the King County votes come in.

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And, if we find ourselves, sometime after 8 p.m., looking at a Rossi lead statewide of, say, around 300,000 votes, with about 370,000 ballots remaining to be counted in King County—well, then, game not over.

We all wait, and the rest of the country waits with us.