OLYMPIA — Slade Gorton widened his lead slightly over Maria Cantwell as votes were tallied in eight mostly rural counties Wednesday and the tight U.S. Senate race in Washington kept both candidates on edge.
Gorton, the Republican incumbent, led Cantwell by 10,397 votes by day’s end. But Cantwell, a Democratic ex-congresswoman, is hoping the 70,000 absentee ballots still uncounted in heavily Democratic King County will propel her to victory. The next batch of King County numbers is expected today.
The latest tally: 1,121,216 votes, or 48.9 percent, for Gorton; 1,110,819 votes, or 48.5 percent, for Cantwell; and 59,292 votes, or 2.6 percent, for Jeff Jared, the Libertarian candidate.
Whatever happens, a recount appears likely. State law requires a recount if the race ends with a margin of less than one-half of 1 percent separating the candidates, or about 12,000 votes.
A Cantwell victory would mean a 50-50 tie in the Senate for the first time in a century. If Al Gore wins the White House and his vice president, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, turns over his seat to a Republican appointee, the GOP membership would rise to 51 seats.
If George W. Bush wins the White House, his vice president, Dick Cheney, would be able to break ties in a 50-50 Senate. If Gorton wins, the Republicans get 51 seats. If Gorton and Gore win, the GOP will have 52 seats.
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