OLYMPIA – Maria Cantwell narrowly defeated veteran Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, results of a recount confirmed Friday. Her victory creates a potential 50-50 tie in the U.S. Senate.
Cantwell, a former one-term U.S. House member waging her first statewide campaign, edged the 18-year incumbent by 2,259 votes, out of nearly 2.5 million cast, as the last of Washington’s counties reported their recount results Friday.
King County gave Cantwell a margin of more than 150,000 votes. The county was the last of the state’s 39 counties to report results of the automatic recount required under state law because the race ended within one-half of 1 percentage point.
Cantwell carried only five counties, but Gorton’s big lead in the less populous areas couldn’t overcome his challenger’s enormous advantage in Seattle.
It was America’s last unsettled Senate race.
“This has been the longest three weeks of our lives,” said Cantwell’s campaign manager, Ron Dotzauer.
Cantwell’s victory reflected voters’ yearning for change in Congress and rewarded her strong environmental positions and her demonstrated success in the so-called New Economy, he said.
Gorton planned to concede Friday night and has no immediate plans, other than attending a lame-duck session of Congress next week, said spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman. Gorton has been mentioned for a cabinet position in a Bush administration.
The loss was crushing for the senator and his small army of volunteers, Bergman said.
“It is absolutely, incredibly difficult for everyone, especially him,” she said.
Cantwell, 42, becomes the 13th woman in the Senate. She will join freshmen at orientation sessions next week.
Her election gives Washington two women senators for the first time. Fellow Democrat Patty Murray is in her second term. Washington joins California and Maine in having two women senators.
Cantwell’s victory draws Senate Democrats into a tie with the Republicans, leading her party to demand a shared power arrangement, including some committee chairmanships. It is the first Senate tie since 1880.
If Dick Cheney becomes vice president, he would break ties for the Republicans as the presiding officer of the Senate. If Sen. Joseph Lieberman wins the vice presidency, Connecticut’s Republican governor would likely appoint a Republican to his vacated seat, putting the GOP back into a 51-49 advantage.
State Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt said he doubted the lateness of Cantwell’s victory, nearly four weeks after the election, will put her at much of a disadvantage. She is a quick study and understands Congress from her term in the House in 1993-1994, he said.
Republican strategist Brett Bader, though, said that with her defeat of the state’s senior and most powerful Republican officeholder, “She will have a big target on her back.”
Twenty years ago, Gorton knocked off the state’s powerful senior senator, Warren G. Magnuson, then chairman of the Appropriations Committee and president pro tempore of the Senate. Gorton, then 52 to Magnuson’s 75, jogged from Seattle to the state Capitol to file his candidacy and used a generational appeal for voters to elect the state’s “next great senator” and give him time to build seniority.
This time, it was 72-year-old Gorton ousted by a woman who was born the year he entered politics 42 years ago, 1958.
Gorton, and adviser to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and an appropriations power, failed to persuade voters that his clout was too important to give up. The same state dumped a sitting speaker of the House, Tom Foley, in 1994.
Cantwell didn’t directly raise the age issue, but called Gorton a man who offered “19th century solutions to 21st century problems.” She ran as someone who understands the high-tech industry and the New Economy from the inside out.
She also benefitted from Gorton’s long list of enemies, including Indian tribes, environmentalists, trial lawyers and abortion-rights activists. They all ran campaigns against the senator, though Cantwell had sworn off “soft money” help from outsiders and refused contributions from political action committees.
When Cantwell started her campaign early this year, she was little known outside her Seattle-area congressional district. But with her personal wealth from her five years at the Seattle-based Internet company RealNetworks, she was able to plow $10 million into her own campaign.
That allowed her to run a steady barrage of television commercials, starting last May, touting her views and attacking Gorton’s.
Gorton had won six statewide races in Democratic-leaning Washington, three terms as attorney general and three as U.S. senator. His one previous loss was his first Senate re-election bid, in 1986 to Democrat Brock Adams. He came back with a narrow victory two years later. He was re-elected easily in the GOP landslide year of 1994.
Gorton, an early backer of George W. Bush and his adviser on Western concerns, has been mentioned for Interior secretary or some other top administration post if the Texas governor wins the White House.
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