By DAVID AMMONS
OLYMPIA — Dotcom millionaire Maria Cantwell drew closer to Republican Sen. Slade Gorton in America’s only unsettled Senate race as more absentee ballots were counted Tuesday, including bagloads from the heavily Democratic Seattle area.
With the addition of more than 140,000 ballots from 16 counties, Gorton clung to a 3,782-vote margin, losing a net of about 10,000 votes in the day’s counting.
Now, more than a week after Election Day, both sides are beginning to talk about the likelihood of an automatic recount. That occurs if the race ends with a margin of less than one-half of 1 percent separating the candidates, or about 12,000 votes.
"It’s down to the bottom of the 9th inning, and we’re hoping for a grand-slam home run," said a nervous Ellis Conklin, spokesman for Cantwell. He said the whole race boils down to about 60,000 or 70,000 ballots that will be counted in King County Friday afternoon. King County includes Seattle.
"King County is our ace in the hole," he said.
The Gorton campaign continues to believe that the senator’s strong support in the rest of the state will be enough to offset Cantwell’s Seattle-area base.
"We’re optimistic, but this is going to be close," spokeswoman Heidi Kelly said.
Eleven counties, including Kitsap and Clallam, are scheduled to report about 53,000 votes on Wednesday.
Counties must certify their final tallies by Thanksgiving Eve. The secretary of state would order a recount on Nov. 27, and the actual count probably would be done on Nov. 29 and certified on Dec. 7, state elections Supervisor Gary McIntosh said.
Gorton has not trailed in the daily updates since Election Day, but at one point Tuesday afternoon, after King County reported, Cantwell pulled to within 1,586 votes. But then several Gorton strongholds reported and the margin widened again.
Cantwell continued to hold a lead of about 7,000 votes in her home county, Snohomish, after an update Tuesday.
About 200,000 votes remain untallied statewide, plus an undetermined number from populous Pierce County, where Gorton has run slightly ahead, the secretary of state said. More than 2.2 million votes have been counted.
The latest tally was 1,083,154, or 48.8 percent, for Gorton; 1,079,372, or 48.63 percent, for Cantwell; and 57,001, or 2.56 percent, for Jeff Jared, the Libertarian candidate.
Gorton, 72, an 18-year veteran of the Senate and an appropriations subcommitee chairman, has been running strongest in Eastern Washington and areas outside the Puget Sound basin.
Cantwell, 42, a former state legislator who represented a Seattle-area congressional district for one term, is carrying five of the 39 counties, pinning her hopes most on the largest prize of all, King County.
On Tuesday, she nearly closed the statewide gap by gaining 55,720 more votes in King County, vs. Gorton’s increase of 40,368. Overall, her edge in the county is 138,440 votes, up from an election night margin of about 109,000 votes in King.
And the county still has more votes to count — between 60,000 and 80,000. Most are expected to be tallied on Friday, the day both campaigns think they might be able to project a winner, finally.
Other counties reporting Tuesday were Douglas, Franklin, Island, Lewis, Kittitas, Klickitat, Mason, Pacific, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skagit, Spokane, Wahkiakum and Yakima.
Gorton had strong leads in nearly every county outside King. Spokane County was giving Gorton a 17,000-vote edge and Yakima County was giving him a 13,000-vote margin. Lewis County, probably the most reliably GOP county in the state, was giving Gorton a nearly 11,000-vote advantage.
A Cantwell victory would usher in a 50-50 tie in the Senate for the first time in a century, down from the pre-election GOP margin of 54-46. But if Al Gore wins the White House and his vice president, Sen. Joe 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.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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