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Originally published October 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 16, 2008 at 5:01 PM

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Rossi, Gregoire clash in final face-off

Gov. Christine Gregoire and challenger Dino Rossi clashed in their final debate Wednesday night over who was best prepared to solve the state's looming budget shortfall and whose camp was to blame for the increasingly nasty tone of campaign ads in their expensive and tightly fought race.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Gov. Christine Gregoire and challenger Dino Rossi clashed in their final debate Wednesday night over who was best prepared to solve the state's looming budget shortfall and whose camp was to blame for the increasingly nasty tone of campaign ads in their expensive and tightly fought race.

In a debate that saw little new ground broken, Gregoire, the Democrat and Rossi, the Republican, each refused to back away from their own supporters' negative attacks but accused the other side of descending into dishonest mudslinging. The debate at the KING-TV studio was co-sponsored by The Seattle Times.

"The supporters of Mr. Rossi are literally prepared to pay $13 million in negative ads against me," said Gregoire, who claimed the campaign hit its "low point" last week when ads mailed to thousands of homes included photos of child rapists and suggested the state had lost track of hundreds of sex offenders.

Rossi, meanwhile, pinpointed the low point as Gregoire's ads which accused him of seeking to lower the minimum wage. Turning to confront her directly, Rossi said, "I really do believe this is demeaning to the office we both seek."

They continued to fight over the state's projected $3.2 billion deficit for the next budget — with Rossi blaming Gregoire's spending for creating the problem and Gregoire accusing Rossi of failing to level with voters on what services he'd cut to close the gap.

Polling has shown the race to be virtually even, foreshadowing a possible rerun of the 2004 election, which Rossi lost by 133 votes after two recounts and a lawsuit.

The onslaught of attack ads is likely to grow in the coming weeks; both sides have millions left to spend. Already, more than $39 million has been raised for the race.

Rossi and his supporters could have a decided money edge in the final days — with four times as much cash in the bank as Gregoire and her backers, according to financial disclosures filed this week.

Rossi and independent groups supporting him have about $8 million left, compared with about $1.8 million for Gregoire's side.

The bulk of Rossi's money comes from the Republican Governors Association and a political committee called It's Time for A Change, mainly funded by the Building Industry Association of Washington.

Democrats have accused the BIAW of illegal fundraising, and two former state Supreme Court justices have filed a lawsuit to stop the group from spending its money.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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