Election dispute attracts 5 who lost race

Dino Rossi's tantalizingly close finish in the governor's race — a finish so close he's suing to overturn the election — has rallied a corps of Republicans who tried before him to break Democrats' 20-year hold on the governor's office.

At least five former Republican gubernatorial candidates have gotten swept up in Rossi's post-election effort to wrest the governor's office from Democrat Christine Gregoire.

Some of their connections to Rossi were remote during the campaign. Now they boost his case on talk radio, represent him in court, scour records looking for fraud and malfeasance and push legislation to change the system that showed counting mistakes and alleged illegal votes.

Dale Foreman calls it a fascinating coincidence — "certainly nothing that is planned." Foreman was a candidate in the 1996 primary and briefly again in 2000. He is Rossi's local attorney in Wenatchee in the Chelan County Superior Court case asking a judge to overturn Gregoire's victory.

He said the former candidates are driven by the same feeling that has gripped many Republicans since the November election and the recounts that followed.

"I'm sure that if you ask every one of them, they would all say we got a raw deal or were cheated or the system was broken or however they describe it," Foreman said. "And we are all independently motivated to do our part to fix it."

Other active former candidates include the Republicans' 2000 nominee, KVI-AM (570) talk-show host John Carlson; 1992 nominee Ken Eikenberry, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Rossi's behalf; 1988 nominee Bob Williams, who has formed two new groups out of his Olympia think tank investigating the election; and 1996 Republican primary candidate Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn, who is heading her caucus' election-reform effort.

For Eikenberry, it was only a brief return to politics, while for Carlson, Williams and Foreman the election dispute has become nearly a full-time job.

"I guess they're too old to form a basketball team," Democratic political consultant Christian Sinderman said of the five.

More seriously, Sinderman said he understands the motivation.

"If you believe that you are qualified and capable of being governor of the state, that's a dream that doesn't die easily," said Sinderman, who helped on Gregoire's campaign.

"I think they clearly see Dino as sort of a torchbearer."

Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance agreed, and said he is sure former candidates pay particular attention to any campaign for the office they wanted.

"When you run for public office, when you spend a year or more of your life pursuing your goal and don't make it, you never forget that," he said.

Vance ran in the 1996 nonpartisan primary for superintendent of public instruction, a race won by Terry Bergeson, who has since been re-elected twice.

"I still keep one eye trained on what Terry Bergeson is doing," Vance said. "It just bugs me."

There's plenty that bugs Republicans about the governor's race. Rossi and Republican voters have filed suit in Chelan County Superior Court asking that the election be nullified. It's the closest finish in state history and the closest a Republican has come to the governor's office since John Spellman won in 1980.

Rossi initially was declared the winner with a 261-vote margin. But after a machine recount and another by hand, Gregoire won by 129 votes.

"I'm happy to help Dino because I think he got robbed," said Carlson, who got about 40 percent of the vote against Gov. Gary Locke in 2000.

Carlson said he has devoted more than 80 percent of his air time to the election dispute. He says it makes for good talk radio. He broadcasts from Wenatchee on the days court is in session.

"The listeners really want to hear more: every new disclosure, every new revelation, every new controversy, every new court filing," he said. "It's a story that has legs."

And, Carlson points out, it's not just unsuccessful GOP candidates who have enlisted to help Rossi. Former Republican Gov. Dan Evans bolstered Rossi's post-election maneuvering with his early calls for Gregoire to concede when she was behind in the count.

The strange circumstances of the governor's race can't help but prompt a little "what if" daydreaming from the unsuccessful candidates.

"My wife told me, 'You should have run this time. You would have won,' " said Foreman. In 1996, he finished second in the Republican primary and was the early favorite in 2000 before dropping out when Carlson got in the race.

Roach, the ranking Republican on the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee, is pushing her own package of election-reform legislation.

Roach said Rossi's campaign shows that her 1996 race could have been different if business interests had backed a Republican then like they did last year.

"I think it should be a lesson to the business community that if they are willing to participate they can have a candidate surface to this level," Roach said. She finished fifth in the 1996 Republican primary.

For Williams, the post-election effort has become more than a full-time job. He runs the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a frequent critic of government spending whose favorite target has been the teachers' union.

Now he has started Grassroots Washington and the Voter Integrity Project.

Grassroots Washington is lobbying the Legislature for election reform and trying to influence the outcome of a report from a governor's task force looking for ways to avoid the sorts of problems that plagued the count in the November election.

Williams' other group is researching the election county by county and expects to find enough evidence to warrant a federal grand-jury investigation.

But through his work on Rossi's election, Williams said, he has given no thought to his 1988 run for governor. He won 38 percent of the vote against incumbent Democrat Booth Gardner.

"It's so out of my mind. In fact, I really have to think what year it was," he said.

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com

Former candidates challenge 2004 results

John Carlson : The Republican Party's 2000 nominee. Carlson is a talk-show host on KVI-AM (570).

Ken Eikenberry: 1992 nominee. Eikenberry filed a friend- of-the-court brief on Dino Rossi's behalf.

Dale Foreman: Candidate in the 1996 primary and briefly again in 2000. Foreman is Rossi's local attorney in Wenatchee in the Chelan County Superior Court case asking a judge to overturn Christine Gregoire's victory.

Sen. Pam Roach: 1996 Republican primary candidate. Roach is pushing her own package

of election-

reform legislation.

Bob Williams: 1988 nominee. Williams has formed two new groups out of his Olympia think tank investigating the election.