By DAVID AMMONS
BELLEVUE – It might take two weeks or more to determine whether GOP Sen. Slade Gorton won re-election against Democrat Maria Cantwell.
Both said Wednesday their chances looked good. Their fate hangs on about 500,000 absentee ballots.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting and more than 1.6 million votes counted, Gorton led by about 4,700 votes this morning in the last undecided U.S. Senate race.
About 650,000 ballots were still out, but Gorton aides said they didn’t expect more than 500,000 to be returned. Absentee ballots could be mailed as late as Election Day from anywhere in the world.
For Gorton, an 18-year veteran, the close race reflected a GOP slump in the state. Al Gore carried the state handily and the Democrats thumped a Republican challenger for governor, picked up a congressional seat and possibly solidified their control of the Legislature.
Cantwell, 42, hoped to ride the Democratic wave.
“As the final numbers come in, we are going to be successful,” she said. “I believe I will ultimately prevail.”
But Gorton, 72, said he was also optimistic.
“I am very happy to have the lead,” he said. “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.”
Cantwell said she may be able to declare victory Friday, when most of the absentee ballots should be tallied. Gorton said it could be a week from Friday, or even later if the results are close enough to trigger an automatic recount or if either side decides to pay for a recount.
Gorton said a dozen GOP senators called him Wednesday, anxious to know if their wafer-thin majority in the Senate would get some padding. The GOP was down to 50 seats after the election. Gorton would be No. 51.
Republicans would maintain control of the Senate even if Cantwell wins, though. If she won and the Republicans win the presidency, Dick Cheney would be vice president and would break any 50-50 tie. If the Democrats win the presidency, Joseph Lieberman would resign as a senator, leaving Connecticut’s Republican governor to name a GOP replacement, so the breakdown would be 51-49 in the GOP’s favor even with Cantwell.
Cantwell was expected to gain in heavily Democratic Seattle, but Gorton expects to triumph in eastern and southwest Washington and other areas outside the metropolitan area.
Cantwell said most of the uncounted votes were from areas where she ran strongest. Gorton aides said Republicans did a better job of lining up absentee voters.
A national Republican landslide swept Gorton into the Senate in 1980. He has had some disappointments since, including a bruising loss to Brock Adams after his first term in 1986. He returned to the Senate two years later.
This year’s race was the state’s most expensive ever. Cantwell spent $10 million, mostly her own money. Gorton was expected to top $7 million.
If Cantwell prevails, the state would have two women senators for the first time. California and Maine also have two women senators.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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