Absentee ballots are still being counted -- in fact, they're still arriving at county elections offices. It is estimated that over 200,000 ballots remain to be counted. So we really, truly don't know who's going to win the corner office in Olympia.
But of course we can guess. If we assume that the current results for each county will be duplicated in the not-yet-counted ballots for the county, it's a simple spreadsheet manipulation to produce an estimate of the final result.
Over 30% of the state's voters are registered in King County, and Gregoire leads Rossi in King by 57.6% to 40.3%. But King County has been relatively efficient in counting votes, and they estimate that only 46,000 ballots remain to be processed (less than 22% of the uncounted ballots). Compare that with, say, Yakima County, which has only 2.8% of all voters but 8.2% of uncounted ballots. Thus far, Dino Rossi has taken 63.9% of the Yakima County vote to Gregoire's 34.4%.
Taking these effects into account, my spreadsheet estimates that the race will tighten significantly before it's over. As I crunch it, based on this evening's totals, Gregoire will finish with fewer votes than Rossi ... 626 fewer. That's 626 votes out of almost 2.8 million cast, a differential of 0.02%. (Note that this margin is about 2.5 times larger than the alleged 2000 presidential margin in Florida.)
In other words, a dead heat, too close to call.
What's intriguing -- aside from the piss-poor campaign by the lily-livered Gregoire, and aside from the sneaky cover-up of Rossi's hard-right anti-choice stances -- is the presence of a third-party candidate, Libertarian Ruth Bennett. Though she's taking only a bit over two percent of the vote, it may be from a different part of the electorate than most Libertarians in the state.
In other statewide offices, the Libertarian candidates drew a similar, indeed, often higher, percentage of the vote than Bennett. One would expect most Libertarian votes to come from the fringes of the Republican part of the spectrum. But Bennett is a strongly pro-choice lesbian, so it's quite possible that many voters who would ordinarily be attracted to a Libertarian would be repulsed by this particular candidate.
If Gregoire eventually slips behind Rossi, I wouldn't blame Ruth Bennett. As noted earlier, Gregoire ran a weak and extremely timid campaign. She had a lot of advantages -- a non-wingnut state that was predisposed to support Democrats, a record of winning statewide races as Attorney General, the advantage that female candidates regularly gain in Washington elections, an opponent desperate to hide his true reactionary positions behind a bland smile and vague generalities. That it's even close is Gregoire's fault.