By DAVID AMMONS
TUMWATER — Now the shoe’s on the other foot.
Back in 1980, when a runner-sleek, 52-year-old Slade Gorton was first campaigning for the U.S. Senate against a visibly aging 75-year-old incumbent, Democratic icon Warren G. Magnuson, he raised the age issue subtly, but clearly.
He jogged from Seattle to the Capitol to file for office, ran ads showing him in runner’s attire and gave a generational appeal for Washington to elect its "next great senator," one who was young enough to build up seniority and clout.
Magnuson, clear of mind but shuffling of gait, lost, hurt both by the Reagan landslide and the unflattering comparisons with the upstart.
Today, the jogging shoe is on the other foot.
Now it’s Gorton, a powerful lion of the Senate and 72 years old, looking over his shoulder at a challenger 30 years his junior.
And Democrat Maria Cantwell is borrowing a page from Gorton’s old playbook.
She’s deferential, but clear in her generational pitch: "It’s not about age; it’s about longevity." She loves to drag out old newspaper clippings from the 1980 campaign — and hopes that turnabout will be fair play.
"I know in 1980 he had a lot to say about what happens when you stay in the system too long and you forget to listen to people and you get too captured (by special interests). He said it well.
"People say ‘Hey, it’s time for him to go.’ "
Cantwell, a dotcom millionaire who speaks the techno-geek lingo of e-commerce, presents herself as an idealistic, if battle-scarred, veteran of the New Economy.
She calls herself "an independent voice for change" and talks about "investing in the future," and keeping the economy strong through trade, technology and education.
She contrasts that with what she sees as Gorton’s yesteryear politics, including his zeal for a resource-based economy.
"He has a 19th-century view of where we need to be," she said.
But Gorton, who has been in public life since 1958, the year Cantwell was born, shrugs off the age question and insists he didn’t directly raise it against Magnuson 20 years ago.
Gorton says Cantwell is right about the election being about old vs. new — but says it is she who represents shopworn "Washington, D.C.-knows-best" politics while he advocates new thinking on education funding, Social Security investments, holding down prescription drug costs and overhauling the tax code.
"I represent the future, and she the past, regardless of our ages," he said.
Gorton says he’s in his prime in the Senate, energized and ready for another six-year term. He keeps a grueling schedule on both coasts and still runs at least 20 miles every week.
Gorton, a legislative leader and three-term attorney general before his three terms in the Senate, is counselor to Majority Leader Trent Lott and a major budget power. He’s on both the Appropriations and Budget committees and heads the Interior appropriations subcommittee. He also serves on the Energy & Natural Resources and Commerce committees.
Throughout his latest term, he has pushed local control. He has pursued his "Straight A’s" school measure, which bundles federal aid into block grants that state and local school officials can spend with greater flexibility.
He uses two home-state issues as evidence that Uncle Sam’s getting too big: the Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, and potential dam-breaching on the lower Snake River as part of a federal strategy for restoring salmon runs.
Gorton’s 2000 campaign also has stressed testimonials for "little people" he has helped while in the Senate.
The Gorton-Cantwell race is eclipsing all state spending records. The total is expected to top $20 million, with both candidates exceeding the previous high-water mark.
Cantwell has written a new chapter by largely self-financing her bid. Worth an estimated $40 million, she has spent about $6 million on her own campaign, or nearly 90 percent of her total spending.
And she adds this twist: She has sworn off gifts from political-action committees, party help and independent expenditures by outsiders.
"She’s flying solo. She made this decision to work without a net," spokesman Ellis Conklin said.
Democratic spokesman Dan Leistikow calls it a calculated risk. "She’s taking the high road and a difficult road."
Shunning party money cost her an estimated $1 million in ads, but the Democrats’ generic get-out-the-vote drive will help her. And none of the interest groups backing her, including Indian tribes, trial lawyers and environmentalists, have halted their efforts.
Gorton has gotten about 75 percent of his money from individuals and the rest from PACs. He is aided by the Republican Party’s anti-Cantwell ads.
Both candidates say they will spend less than $9 million, but both figure the other side will spend much more.
The two have saturated the airwaves with ads, a mixture of feel-good spots and withering attacks.
Both have accused the other of distorting their record and views. Cantwell accuses Gorton of lying about her position on prescription drugs, health care, support for military personnel, tax cuts and the Microsoft breakup.
Gorton withdrew an ad on prescription drugs and, in turn, asked her to pull an ad on the same subject.
By Gorton’s count, Cantwell is swamping him 2-to-1 on ad spending, but says his "secret weapon" is his 21,000 donors.
"It takes more than a TV campaign to win statewide — you need a good ground game," Gorton spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said. "Maria has made no effort to do that. We’re running a different kind of campaign, getting out of downtown Seattle and organizing all across the state."
Cantwell also uses the phrase "different kind of campaign" to describe her own effort, both the way she is financing it and her call for reforms. She says she wants to combat voter cynicism and apathy.
"People have this underlying frustration. They think they elect these people and they go back there and get caught up in this state and how come nothing ever gets done?"
She segues into a riff on Gorton-beholden-to-special-interests and Cantwell-for-the-little-guy. "It’s a matter of whose side you’re going to be on," she told a campaign audience in Tumwater the other day.
"Slade’s been back there a long time, and he has forgotten to work for the working families," she said.
Gorton says Cantwell is a new convert to campaign reform, taking $1 million in PAC money in her two House races and staking out her new position only after she got rich.
"I say she has a perfect constitutional right to try to buy the election, but it galls me when she complains about anybody who raises money to compete against her," Gorton said.
The race, a dead heat in most of the recent independent polls, is part of the handful of most competitive races in the country and could be pivotal to which party controls the Senate.
The Democrats, who need a gain of five seats, believe they should be able to break through in Democratic-leaning Washington.
Republicans say Gorton will win again, though perhaps not by very much.
Gorton sees himself as the frontrunner; his top aide, Tony Williams, says internal polls show the senator with an edge of about 8 percentage points. Cantwell says her tracking polls show a dead heat.
Voters also will see a third nominee on the ballot: Jeff Jared of the Libertarian Party, who polled 1.3 percent of the primary vote. Jared, a Kirkland attorney, advocates "a new people-centered vision based on liberty, responsibility and community."
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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