Democrat Maria Cantwell, a dot-com millionaire who financed her own campaign, narrowly defeated veteran Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, results of a recount confirmed today. Her victory creates the possibility of a 50-50 tie in the new Senate.
Cantwell, a former one-term U.S. House member waging her first statewide campaign, ousted the 18-year incumbent by 2,229 votes out of nearly 2.5 million cast as the last of Washington’s 39 counties reported their recount results. The initial unofficial count, reported last week, had given her a margin of 1,953 votes.
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.
Gorton, who has been mentioned for a cabinet position should George W. Bush win the presidency, was expected to concede later today. He has no immediate plans other than attending a lame-duck session of Congress next week, spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said.
“It is absolutely, incredibly difficult for everyone, especially him,” she said of the loss.
King County, home of heavily Democratic Seattle, won the race for Cantwell, giving her a margin of more than 150,000 votes. The county was the last to report results of the automatic recount required under state law because election results 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.
Cantwell, 42, will join freshmen at orientation sessions next week.
Her victory could draw Senate Democrats into a tie with Republicans.
If Bush wins the White House and Dick Cheney becomes vice president, Republicans would still maintain nominal control of the Senate even if there is a 50-50 tie. But a protracted negotiation would likely ensue before the two parties came to terms on the allocation of committee seats as well as staff funding.
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.
Washington, for the first time, joins California and Maine in having two female senators. Fellow Democrat Patty Murray is in her second term.
Political Vet Defeated
Gorton had won six statewide races in Democratic-leaning Washington, three terms as attorney general and three as U.S. senator. His lone previous loss was his first Senate re-election bid, to Democrat Brock Adams in 1986. He came back with a narrow victory two years later and was re-elected easily in the GOP landslide year of 1994.
But he 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, who all ran campaigns against the senator.
When Cantwell started her campaign early this year, she was little known outside her Seattle-area congressional district. While she swore off “soft money” help and refused contributions from political action committees, she plowed $10 million into her campaign with personal wealth from five years at the Seattle-based Internet company RealNetworks.
That allowed her to run a steady barrage of television commercials, starting last May.