Mother knows best

Cantwell soars, Republicans swoon in primary.

It was victory party time, and the most famous member of the Cantwell family was center stage.

But enough about Rose, the mother of Democratic US Senate candidate Maria Cantwell and the star of her daughter's TV campaign spots. Perhaps it was symbolic of the major role television played in the campaign that even Governor Gary Locke, visiting to congratulate Cantwell on her impressive primary victory, seemed equally interested in meeting Mom.

Fueled by $3.7 million from her personal fortune, former Congresswoman-turned-computer millionaire Cantwell used TV ads and targeted mailings to swamp primary rival Deborah Senn and pull to within eight percentage points of Republican incumbent Slade Gorton.

While Gorton netted 44 percent of the primary vote to Cantwell's 36.5 percent, the two top Democrats combined for 48 percent of the total. Compare this to Gorton's last run, in which the state's senior senator grabbed a 53 percent share of primary voters and two rivals split just 33 percent.

"The race really begins tonight," Cantwell told supporters at her Lynnwood victory bash. "I know if we work this hard for the next seven weeks, we will win in November."

The general election race for Senate is certain to be the biggest-spending battle in Washington history. Two years ago, Patty Murray and Linda Smith each spent in excess of $5 million each on their campaigns.

Cantwell has been criticized by rivals for her self-funded campaign, so her victory celebration was staged as a populist affair. Instead of slipping in through a back door, Cantwell walked through the crowd, dispensing handshakes, hugs, and smiles to supporters as a crowd of photographers trailed her to the stage.

Her victory speech bore a strong resemblance to her TV campaign. Cantwell pledged to continue coverage of prescriptions for seniors under Medicare and blasted "special interests" such as the insurance companies, who financed a series of ads attacking her performance as a state legislator and one-term US representative.

After the speeches, Cantwell worked the room, stopping to complete a few television interviews over the din of a Beatles cover band (which dedicated its version of "Nowhere Man" to Senator Gorton).

And some of the stars seem to be aligning for a Democratic November in Washington state. Governor Locke notched a decisive primary victory over Republican rival John Carlson. If Vice President Al Gore retains his narrow edge in the presidential polls over Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Democrats could have some serious top-of-the-ballot muscle to nudge Cantwell past three-term incumbent Gorton.

Elsewhere on the ticket, voters topped the GOP's tree Tuesday night. In the key races for Congress and Governor, Republicans hit a buzzsaw. "That's hideous," winced State Rep. Luke Esser when told about the GOP's Congressional challenger Chris Vance only pulling 27 percent to incumbent Democrat Adam Smith's 60 percent in suburban South King County's 9th District. The results were also gnarly for the GOP in the 1st Congressional District burbs of North and East King County where Republican Dan McDonald trailed 17 points behind first-term Democrat Jay Inslee. Both Inslee and Smith were supposedly vulnerable Democrats in the battle for control of Congress, but clearly the GOP leaders will have to look elsewhere around the country if they hope to increase their tenuous majority in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile in the race for the Governor's mansion, the GOP's Carlson barely kicked up sawdust with around 33 percent of the vote to Locke's tall timber of 54 percent. Carlson tried to pump up his supporters by reminding them there are only "seven more weeks, 49 more days" before the final election. But with numbers like Carlson's, the reminder seemed downright gruesome.

Away from the TV cameras, Carlson looked gray. Asked what it would take to beat Locke, he said without a smile, "A lot of hard work, man." He admitted his name recognition is only 60 percent statewide, and one suspects a lot of people who have heard of the KVI shock jock and initiative monger don't like him.

Leave it to one of the brainiest Republicans in King County to find good wood in this rotten stand. King County Council member Rob McKenna, who is in the happy position of not running this year, pointed out, "We [the GOP] didn't have a real primary." Carlson did have a nominal opponent, Harold Hochstatter, Moses Lake's guardian of the liberty tree. However, Weird Harold only drew 7.5 percent statewide.

McKenna argues that the hot Senate primary between Cantwell and Senn drove up the Democratic turnout. "The Ds are running a 4 to 6 percent advantage" in turnout, he argued. Plus, he quickly pointed out, further down the ticket, Republicans were doing quite well: In the Commissioner of Public Lands' race, Republican moderate Doug Sutherland was leading all candidates; the GOP's chief progressive, Sam Reed, was neck and neck with Democratic rival Don Bonker for the Secretary of State post; and Bellevue dentist Don Davidson was nipping at the heels of the D's Mike Kreidler in the race for Insurance Commissioner.

McKenna believes that the GOP is in striking distance for most key races in November. Plus he is clearly encouraged that the party's candidates are not far-right religious conservatives. The past few elections, extremist Republican candidates like Ellen Craswell and Linda Smith divided the party and alienated independents.

But even McKenna couldn't put out the forest fire that consumed Congressional hopeful Chris Vance. "I can't explain that," he muttered.

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