Cantwell Wins in Washington, 50-50 Senate Split Looms
More than two weeks after the Nov. 7 election, challenger Maria Cantwell (D) last week was declared the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Washington state, defeating incumbent Sen. Slade Gorton (R) by 1,953 votes out of 2.5 million votes cast, the New York Times reports. The results, however, are subject to an automatic recount set to begin today, and Gorton did not concede, saying Thursday he was "cautiously pessimistic." The three statewide recounts conducted since 1977 have never resulted in a change of more than 230 votes. Ellis Conklin, a spokesperson for Cantwell, said her lead was likely "big enough to be bullet-proof in a recount." Cantwell's campaign was "low on ideology," as she presented herself as a "product of the new century economy which could move Washington well beyond its old roots in the natural-resource based economy" (Egan, New York Times, 11/23).
Health care issues, however, surfaced frequently throughout the campaign. Cantwell indicated her support for a prescription drug benefit directly through Medicare, and endorsed a strong patients' bill of rights. She is also an abortion rights supporter, and earned a 100% rating from pro-choice groups when she was a member of the House of Representatives (California Healthline, 11/3).
Cantwell's apparent victory makes it more likely that the Senate will be split 50-50 among Democrats and Republicans. The final makeup, however, hinges on the outcome of the presidential election, although Republican control is all but certain in any case. If Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) is to win, Richard Cheney would be vice president and would cast tie-breaking votes as president of the Senate. If Vice President Al Gore (D) is to win, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) would resign from the Senate and his successor would be named by the Republican governor of Connecticut, presumably leaving the Republicans with a 51-49 advantage (Dewar, Washington Post, 11/23).
Earlier this month, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) indicated that Democrats would seek a power-sharing arrangement if the Senate is split evenly, suggesting that co-chairs of committees should be selected. While Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) did not comment last week, Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said, "It depends on what they mean by power-sharing. If it means co-chairing committees, no." He added, "We'll need to be trying energetically to work in a more bipartisan way" (Anderson, Los Angeles Times, 11/23).
In an undecided House race, "final tallies" of New Jersey's 12th Congressional District showed that Rep. Rush Holt (D) has defeated challenger Dick Zimmer (R) by 672 votes. Holt, who will now serve his second term, declared victory Friday, while Zimmer requested and was granted a recount petition in court. If Holt's win stands, Republicans will control the House by a slim 221-212 margin over Democrats, with two independents (AP/Washington Post, 11/23). In the New Jersey campaign, women's health issues were prevalent, with Democrats running a $200,000 mail campaign criticizing Zimmer's record on women's health, including breast cancer screening (California Healthline, 10/31).