OLYMPIA — Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna prepared Thursday for a potentially prolonged ballot count, with campaign aides beginning an extensive effort to make sure votes get counted.
As election officials tallied more votes, McKenna’s campaign field staff shifted its focus to about 16,000 challenged ballots around the state, the candidate’s spokesman Charles McCray said. Aides are working to notify people whose ballots have been challenged, often due to mismatched signatures.
McKenna’s campaign also has attorneys in every county that are prepared to deal with any issues that arise.
“We’ll take it beyond this week if that’s what it takes to make sure he’s the next governor,” McCray said.
Newly counted ballots on Thursday gave little credence to that hope, as Democrat Jay Inslee still held about 51 percent of the vote compared to 49 percent for McKenna. McKenna campaign manager Randy Pepple said they still believe votes will start breaking toward them on Friday, over the weekend and early next week.
Roughly three-quarters of the ballots that officials expect to receive have been counted so far.
McKenna, who currently serves as the state’s attorney general, trails Democrat Jay Inslee by about 50,000 votes, but election officials say hundreds of thousands of ballots are left to count. The Republican believes later ballots will break in his direction, giving him the chance to make up that ground.
Counties prepared to update vote counts Thursday afternoon and evening.
Inslee, a former congressman, has said he’s confident his lead will hold and has started preparing a team to help him transition into office in January. However, the Democrat has stopped short of declaring victory, acknowledging vote counts can take days.
Inslee spokesman Sterling Clifford said the campaign also was reaching out to people with challenged ballots. But he said it was because it was in everyone’s interest to have ballots counted — not because of fears that the campaign’s lead may disappear.
“We continue to have tremendous confidence in what the final results will be,” Clifford said.
Because of Washington’s shift to all-mail voting, in which ballots only have to be postmarked by Election Day, the state is used to prolonged counts. Voters also have experience with close governor’s races after current Gov. Chris Gregoire won the 2004 contest by a mere 133 votes after two recounts and a court challenge.