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November 2, 2010 at 10:29 PM

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Murray opens early lead in Senate re-election bid

Posted by Jonathan Martin

UPDATED 10:29 p.m.: As round after round of ballots rolled in, the crowds at the Democratic gathering at Seattle's Westin Hotel grew more lively despite the GOP tide.

King County Executive Dow Constantine joked to several hundred party faithful that he was late because he'd fielded a call from Congressman For Life Rep. Jim McDermott's opponent, who was demanding a recount.

Hearing that the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, appeared likely to hold onto his Nevada Senate seat despite a challenge from Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, the crowd roared.

Losing -- or at least not losing as big as first feared -- had become the new winning.

Around the grand ballroom at the Westin, Democrats repeatedly pointed out that losses across the country weren't anywhere near as bad as they'd first feared. They took solace where they could find it, in Reid's race or Jerry Brown's victory in the California gubernatorial contest, or in the fact that Patty Murray still seemed to be holding her own against Republican Dino Rossi.

Despite losing the U.S. House, and seeing the failure of the I-1098 income tax on high earners, there were few tears, lots of laughter, and relatively little drinking.

Given all the months of polling, "I think we've had some time to prepare for this," said Rebecca Black, a Microsoft employee who said she was disappointed, but not crushed by the Republican gains Tuesday.

She said the Obama administration didn't do enough to trumpet its successes. Quoting The Daily Show host Jon Stewart, she also said the 24-7 cable news cycle amplified the unimportant.

But Black was realistic, too. "We have 10 percent unemployment. It's hard for people to recognize that some of what Obama did just hasn't taken hold yet."

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UPDATE 9:30 p.m. Despite trailing incumbent Sen. Patty Murray in early returns, Republican Dino Rossi took the stage in Bellevue Tuesday night to chants of DI-NO, DI-NO.

"Tonight is about a course correction across the nation,'' he told a crowd that had been watching Republicans roll up victories from coast to coast. "We don't know what is going to happen in this state, whether the course correction is going to hit Washington fully. You know Washington, you know how it is.

"What we need to do in this state over the next several days as we count these ballots is talk about these things: that is what this campaign was really about," he said.

"There are so many ballots yet to be counted, and the good news is the areas where we do the best have a bigger turnout.''He left without taking questions from reporters.

Before Rossi took the stage, his wife, Terry, spoke to the crowd.

"Never a dull moment in the Rossi family," she told a packed room. She credited the prayers of supporters for her family's ability to sustain yet another statewide race.

"Of course we would like to leave you on pins and needles."

-----

Update 9:01 p.m. At the GOP election party, former US Sen. Slade Gorton predicted there would be no result tonight in the Murray-Rossi contest, but noted that Washington didn't seem to follow the same mood as the rest of the country.

"Washington is kind of a lagging political indicator," he noted. "Dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the Administration has pervaded much of the country, but not here."

Two of Rossi's siblings were all but biting their nails as the evening wore on. Dick Cogo of Graham, one of Rossi's brothers, said he was still hopeful, and so did his sister, Margie Eidson of Mukilteo. "He deserves that spot," she said of Rossi.

----
UPDATE 8:29 p.m.: Initial vote counts from King and Snohomish counties were encouraging for Patty Murray's re-election bid against Republican Dino Rossi. Murray held a 52-48 lead with 1.25 million votes counted out of an expected 2.4 million votes cast.

Murray held a commanding 62-38 percent lead in King County with 373,941 out of an expected 720,000 votes cast. She was also leading by a slim margin in Snohomish County.

Murray's supporter were gathering to watch returns in the Grand Ballroom of Seattle's Westin Hotel. Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz said he felt good about Democratic turnout statewide.

"There's no turnout deficit in Washington," Pelz said, despite a GOP surge nationwide.

Across Lake Washington at Rossi's election-night headquarters at the Hilton in Bellevue, Republicans were taking nothing for granted.

Campaign workers passed out yellow Rossi stickers, and GOP party chairman Luke Esser exhorted the crowd to not just hang around the bar, but get busy. A big box of cell phones was on hand at the sign-in tables, along with call sheets, and partygoers standing around the clusters of red, white and blue balloons in the ballroom were urged to pick up a phone, grab a call sheet, and get out the vote.

"Get a cell phone, get a call sheet, and we want to have as much as possible to celebrate later tonight,'' Esser said. " Please let me implore you to interrupt your social time to give us the maximum victory this evening."

Even the soundtrack had a take no prisoners theme to it as the GOP waited for the results at their party headquarters in Bellevue election night. "Another One Bites the Dust" was a favorite. But really, mostly everyone only had eyes for the monitors and their Blackberries, as they scrolled and watched for results. The crowd kept building, along with the noise level. But the dancing had yet to get started. It would take some Washington victories to get the crowd to cut looser.

Republicans do wear their patriotism on their sleeve, no doubt about it. Check the fashion at the Bellevue Hilton, HQ and party central for the GOP. Cowboy hats were big, as were red, white and blue just about everything, from blazers to shirts to T shirts. Don't Tread on Me buttons were big. And the heels...my oh my. Not a Birkenstock in sight.

Back at the Democratic Senate headquarters, Pelz said he was not worried by the Republican victories elsewhere in the country and remained upbeat about the Senate race here. "I've been focused on Patty Murray," he said.

Nonetheless, the scene at the Westin was subdued. Several hundred of the Democratic faithful stood in little clusters, watching returns filter in on big-screen televisions. But only in the most technical sense could this be called a party.

Mark Saporito, who volunteered for Murray and is also a precinct committee officer, held a beer wrapped in a napkin and chatted with a buddy who wore an Obama t-shirt. Asked how they were doing, Saporito said, "Meh ... not so good." His friend said simply, "Ask me another time," and wandered off.

Saporito said he still felt optimistic about Murray's race, but watching the GOP results pour in from around the country left him frustrated.

"I mean, come on ... Rand Paul?" he said. "That's what we want?"

Asked how he thought we got here, Saporito didn't hesitate: "The press didn't do its job."

He complained that too many Republican candidates were too successful at dodging the media. No one forced them to answer hard questions, Saporito said.

"It's crazy," he said. "Keeping the public informed is part of holding office."

-- From the Times' Craig Welch and Lynda Mapes

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