Gorton, Cantwell face off on TV


Associated Press

SEATTLE — Sen. Slade Gorton and Democratic challenger Maria Cantwell, locked in a tight race that could determine control of the Senate, clashed Monday in their only televised debate, differing over ideology, style and whether Gorton has overstayed his welcome.

Tiptoeing around the issue of Gorton’s age — he’s 72, 30 years her senior — Cantwell sought to portray the senator as out of touch with ordinary voters and too beholden to the special interests and the Senate Republican leadership.

"It’s time for a change," she said. "The issue is longevity in office. I think Sen. Gorton has forgotten who he represents."

But Gorton suggested that the clout he has built over three terms as a key budget writer and leadership counselor is paying huge dividends for the state.

He repeatedly tried to paint Cantwell as a made-for-Seattle candidate who listens only to "one narrow ideological band" of people and the Seattle newspapers that endorsed her on Sunday. If anyone is out of touch with Washington’s concerns, it is Cantwell, he suggested.

Both candidates were scrappy, self-assured and frequently on the attack as they sparred in one of only three scheduled debates. They met last week before the Spokane Rotary and will have a joint radio appearance on KIRO Radio in Seattle on Thursday.

The polls suggest a tight finish. Leaders of both campaigns proclaimed their candidate the winner of Monday’s debate and separately forecast the same margin of victory next week, 3 percent. And spokesmen for both candidates used the identical phrase — "old versus new" — as how they want to frame the election.

Monday’s debate, taped in the afternoon and broadcast in the evening, was sponsored by KING-TV, the Seattle Times and the League of Women Voters.

Although the debate covered a wide range of issues, the central issue was Gorton, whether he’s been around too long and whether his views reflect centrist Washington. By the end of the debate, Gorton was proclaiming himself as the agent of change, and Cantwell as the advocate of the mindset that says big government knows best.

Cantwell, who became a dotcom millionaire after losing a congressional re-election bid in 1994, repeatedly came back to a contention that Gorton has been seduced by the power elite in the Senate and has lost the common touch.

She offered as evidence Gorton’s opposition to the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation and his championing of an Okanogan County open-pit gold mine over government objections.

"He has become part of the leadership in Washington, D.C., and has fought more for the special interests," rather than for a prescription-drug benefit or a meaningful patients’ bill of rights that would help average citizens, she said.

"I disagree with the vision" of a resource-based economy if it hurts the environment, she said.

"I don’t think the future of our state is in four years of mining jobs with the threat of polluting our environment. I think our future is in wiring our state, investing in education and trying to get higher-wage jobs throughout Eastern Washington as well as Western Washington."

She called Gorton an "apologist" for the current campaign-finance system and said she would fight for change. She noted that she has taken no direct contributions from special interests, although some of her backers are independently running anti-Gorton ads.

Gorton was equally vigorous in defending his own record and style and tried to portray Cantwell as a standard-fare, big government Democrat.

"I’m for new thinking," Gorton said. "She’s for the old. She wants to do it in old ways that have already failed. I represent the new politics of today."

He said the federal government should empower local voters and communities, and said Cantwell believes the government "should tell us how to run our schools, when to take down our dams and what to do about our infrastructure, and how to run our software companies.

"I represent … a politics of trust," the senator said.

Gorton said his "seniority and influence" in the majority party are crucial to protecting the Northwest’s cheap hydroelectric power, the Snake River dams and getting a healthy share of the federal budget pie. Budget victories "didn’t happen by accident," he said.

Cantwell shot back that Gorton has used his seniority for wrong purposes, whether blocking campaign-finance changes or pushing through the gold-mine as a rider on the Kosovo aid bill.

"I have fought for the people of the state. She refuses to listen to them," retorted Gorton.

Each accused the other of distorting their records on Social Security votes.

After all of the diatribes and negative advertising, one questioner asked, was there anything good they could say about the other?

"He has a great staff," Cantwell said. "He hires fine people and they work very hard to represent this state."

"Ms. Cantwell is extremely hardworking, very persistent," Gorton replied. "She represents her point of view very well."

And then they started throwing elbows again.

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

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