King County, WA: Ground Zero. Again.

King County will continue to be ground zero in the U.S. Senate race between Dino Rossi (R) and Sen. Patty Murray (D), with the count of all ballots possibly not being completed until Friday or next week.

After counts from around the state have all been posted mid-evening, the Rossi camp trails in the statewide count by 27,464 votes with hundreds of thousands of votes still uncounted, many of which are in King County, the bane of a Washington Republican candidate’s existence. Rossi’s path to victory must now traverse the county that Wikipedia calls Washington’s “major center for liberal politics and a bastion for the Democratic Party.”

(We in the Pacific Northwest know that as a euphemistic substitution for calling it what it is—a county dominated by a 21st-century Tammany Hall situated on the scenic shores of Puget Sound.)

Although Rossi’s cause was aided in the early afternoon by gains in Spokane County where he picked up a net gain of 3,262 votes, a predictable deluge from King County and small net losses in the Pierce and Snohomish County tallies erased those gains and extended Murray’s lead in the race. A late (and somewhat shocking) boost from Franklin County—a net gain for Rossi of 3,128 votes in a county where only about 12,000 total votes had been counted—brought the race back to within a two-point margin.

As of 10:30 p.m. tonight, with the live camera in the King County Elections ballot inspection room displaying only a half-illuminated and empty space, Murray’s lead stands at 50.84 percent to 49.16 for Rossi.

A communication sent out tonight from the Rossi campaign still contends that the race is too close to call pointing to low voter turnout in King County as a reason for optimism. Although the Democrat’s spin machine was chugging away from the break of dawn with tales of a voter surge, skepticism proves a worthy safeguard against swallowing the hype.

David Goldstein at Seattle liberal blog Horsesass.org may have been the first to report this morning about the tidal wave of ballots surging into King County Elections and bloating the number of ballots on hand but not yet counted to a point not expected by elections officials. But according to King County’s turnout projections for the race and statewide turnout statistics, the largest county in the state isn’t keeping pace.

The mailbags opened by election officials in King County were light by about 15,000 ballots from what was anticipated, falling 10 percent short of projections.

Another curious observation on Wednesday night was that numbers posted on the King County Elections website for mail ballot return stats failed to match the figures posted at the Secretary of State’s site. At 11:00 p.m., King County stated that a total of 686,792 ballots had been received to date out of 1,076,209 ballots issued. The state’s accounting showed a total of 595,673 ballots received (the sum of ballots counted and estimated ballots on hand but not processed) and a figure of 1,069,791 for the number of registered voters in the county.

An assumption that a larger number of ballots issued than registered voters indicates that more than 6,400 unregistered voters received ballots in King County would be hasty. Emails have been sent to the Secretary of State and King County Elections asking for an explanation of the discrepancy.

If there is a surge in King County, the ballots from late voters could contain the backlash from the odd claim made by Murray during the KOMO-TV debate that she helped write the increasingly unpopular healthcare bill. Visits from Pres. Barack Obama and Vice Pres. Joe Biden in the waning days of the campaign could also be a ticking time bomb as the final ballots reflect voter attitudes closer to day of the election.

King County will release its next batch of results on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. Pacific.