Cantwell, Gorton pray for absentees

By DAVID AMMONS

Associated Press

BELLEVUE – Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, who has been winning races in Democratic Washington for the past four decades, and his wealthy challenger, former congresswoman Maria Cantwell, both were predicting victory in America’s only unsettled Senate race Wednesday.

However, they conceded their fate lies with about 500,000 absentee voters, and the outcome may not be clear for days, or even weeks.

With more than 1.6 million votes counted, Gorton had about 3,000 votes more than Cantwell. Both had 49 percent of the vote. Jeff Jared, a Kirkland lawyer running on the Libertarian ticket, had the rest.

Gorton’s troubles reflected Republicans’ slump in the state elections. Al Gore carried the state handily and the Democrats thumped the GOP challenger for governor, picked up a congressional seat and, possibly, control of the Legislature.

Indeed, Gorton told reporters he’s just happy to be still in the hunt, given the Democratic tide that was running Tuesday night. He said he remains optimistic he’ll pull it out in the absentees, winning a fourth six-year term.

Cantwell, 42, was equally confident, telling reporters in Mountlake Terrace, “As the final numbers come in, we are going to be successful. … I believe I will ultimately prevail.”

Both parties are closely watching the outcome.

Gorton, 72, casually clad in chinos, gray sweat shirt and running shoes, conceded to a case of nerves, but was philosophical about his predicament.

“I am very happy to have the lead,” he said midday Wednesday. “I’m optimistic the end result will be a victory, but no one can be at all certain of that with this large number of votes out. …

“You just have to have patience when you don’t have any control over what’s going on. Patience is a virtue in this business that you must cultivate or you’re in deep trouble.”

He and his campaign manager, Veda Jellen, said Cantwell will continue to pick up votes in heavily Democratic Seattle, but that Eastern Washington, Southwest Washington and other areas outside the metropolitan area will offset her support. The real battleground will be for the suburbs around Puget Sound, he said.

Both campaigns said about 670,000 ballots still are out, although Jellen said she doesn’t expect more than 500,000 to be mailed back.

Gorton will have something to divert his attention from the agonizing vote count: He has to fly back to the Senate for a post-election budget session on Monday. What will he do in the meantime?

“Worry.”

Gorton, has had some disappointments in his long career – including a bruising loss to Brock Adams after his first Senate term in 1986. He returned to the Senate two years later.

Cantwell, meanwhile, was all business and cool optimism. Dressed in a tailored suit, she predicted victory, saying most of the uncounted votes are in the King County and other large counties where she ran strongest.

She said the election could be settled Friday afternoon, when she expects the bulk of King County absentees to be tallied.

Spokesman Ellis Conklin said their number-crunchers now forecast that Cantwell will win by 10,000 to 20,000 votes.

“It’s hard to escape the optimism we have,” said campaign researcher Jed Lewison.

The Washington race is the state’s most expensive ever – likely topping $20 million. Cantwell alone spent $10 million. Gorton is expected to top $7 million, although he likes to point out that it came from 22,000 donors, not a millionaire’s checkbook.

Cantwell led in only five of the 39 counties Wednesday, but had a commanding lead of over 100,000 votes in the populous King County. She had a slight edge in her home county, Snohomish, and the two fought to a near tie in two other Puget Sound counties, Kitsap and Pierce. Gorton rolled up huge pluralities outside the Puget Sound basin.

If Cantwell indeed prevails, it would give the state two women senators for the first time since statehood. California and Maine also have two women senators.

Gorton, who harshly criticized the Clinton administration for its antitrust trial against Redmond-based Microsoft, drew strong support among those who said the case had strongly or somewhat influenced their vote.

Cantwell was supported by more than two-thirds of those who said they favored protecting the environment over promoting growth, while Gorton did slightly better among the smaller number who said they would promote growth first.

Gorton and Cantwell split the suburban vote, while Gorton drew more support from rural areas and Cantwell was stronger in cities with 50,000-plus population.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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