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Recount Looms for Wash. Senate Race


Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- While an agonizingly slow tally stretches out in Florida, voters across the continent in Washington are waiting to find out who won the nation's last undecided Senate race.

The battle between Democrat Maria Cantwell and Republican incumbent Slade Gorton for the Washington Senate seat appears headed toward an automatic recount.

On Tuesday, two weeks after the election, Cantwell took her first lead on the strength of returns from King County, which includes heavily Democratic Seattle. With more than 2.4 million votes counted, the 42-year-old dot-com millionaire led the three-term incumbent by 1,780 votes.

''Obviously we're feeling better, as good as possible under the circumstances after waiting for two weeks,'' Cantwell spokesman Ellis Conklin said. ''It has been a long ordeal, pacing and number-crunching and going through this seesaw, roller-coaster.''

About 9,700 ballots remained to be counted Wednesday, the deadline for the state's 39 counties to complete their counts and certify the results. Secretary of State Ralph Munro indicated he would order a machine recount next Monday, as required whenever a margin is less than 0.5 percent.

''We have another day of waiting. As much as we're tired of waiting, that's what we have to do,'' Gorton spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said.

A victory by Gorton would preserve the Republican majority in the Senate, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election and the political fate of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate.

A new term for Gorton would assure Republicans of 51 votes in the new Senate, while Democrats have 49.

A Cantwell win would create an unusual 50-50 tie in the Senate between the two parties, pending the outcome of the presidential election. If Lieberman becomes vice president, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland would appoint a Republican to fill the vacated seat, leaving the GOP with a narrow 51-49 majority.

If Texas Gov. George W. Bush wins the White House and Dick Cheney becomes vice president, Republicans would still maintain nominal control of the Senate. 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.

Gorton, the patrician 72-year-old incumbent, has endured defeat and narrow victories in a political career that has spanned more than 40 years. His latest opponent was born the same year he won his first legislative race, 1958.

Cantwell, who lost a U.S. House re-election bid in 1994, used $10 million of her high-tech wealth to fund her campaign.

The latest tally was 1,191,644 votes for Cantwell and 1,189,864 for Gorton with 99 percent of the vote counted.

David Brine, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said a recount ''can take as long as it takes,'' but most counties would likely finish their work in a few days.

The election is not certified until Dec. 7.

The late count is so large because many Washington voters vote by mail. State law doesn't require that ballots be in the courthouse by Election Day, only that they be postmarked on that date.

-- (AP@news.article), November 22, 2000

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