Washington voters narrowly oust Senator Slade Gorton in favor of Maria Cantwell, re-elect Governor Gary Locke, and prefer Al Gore to George W. Bush on November 7, 2000.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 11/17/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5616

On November 7, 2000, Democrat Maria Cantwell (b. 1958) narrowly defeats Republican Senator Slade Gorton (b. 1928) and joins Senator Patty Murray (b. 1950) to make Washington the third state with two women senators. Vice President Al Gore (b. 1948) prevails in Washington and wins the nationwide popular vote for president by more than 500,000 votes, but Texas Governor George W. Bush (b. 1946) ultimately gains the presidency when a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision awards him Florida's electoral votes. Governor Gary Locke (b. 1950) easily wins a second term, and incumbents are re-elected in eight of Washington's nine U.S. House of Representatives districts.

Gorton and Cantwell

Slade Gorton's political career began in 1958, the year Cantwell was born, when he was elected to the state House of Representatives. He served three terms as state Attorney General and was first elected to the Senate in 1980 when he ousted veteran Democratic Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989). In that race, the 52-year-old Gorton emphasized his relative youth and vigor in contrast to the 75-year-old Magnuson and campaigned on the need for new leadership. Gorton lost his bid for re-election to the Senate in 1986, when Brock Adams (1927-2004) defeated him. He returned to the Senate two years later, narrowly besting Democratic Congressman Mike Lowry (1939-2017) in the race for an open seat, and was easily re-elected in 1994.

Maria Cantwell, like Gorton, began her political career in the state House of Representatives, to which she was elected in 1986. In 1992, Cantwell won the First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Two years later, she was one of five Democratic Representatives in the state to lose in the Republican landslide of 1994. After her defeat, Cantwell became one of the first 10 employees at RealNetworks, a high-tech firm that pioneered audio and visual software for the Internet. The company grew to 800 employees, and Cantwell made a fortune, much of which she used in the Senate campaign.

Cantwell loaned and gave her campaign nearly $10 million dollars, allowing her to compete evenly with Gorton, who out-spent his 1994 opponent, King County Councilmember Ron Sims, by $3.5 million. At the age of 72, Gorton found himself on the receiving end of a campaign similar to the one he had run against Magnuson 20 years earlier. Cantwell called the incumbent someone who promoted "19th century solutions to 21st century problems" (Post-Intelligencer, 12/01/00) and emphasized her experience in the high tech industry.

The Senate race was extremely close. With a small lead after votes were counted on election night, Cantwell claimed victory, but with hundreds of thousands of mail ballots outstanding, Gorton declined to concede. The undecided Senate race was soon overshadowed by the unprecedented drama of an equally undecided, and extremely controversial, presidential race.

Chaos and Controversy in Florida

Al Gore won the nation-wide popular vote by more than half a million votes -- final official totals showed him with 50,999,897 votes (48.38 percent) to 50,456,002 (47.87 percent) for George W. Bush, and 2,882,955 (2.74 percent) for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. However, under the Electoral College system, electoral votes are decisive, with 270 necessary to win. Gore won Washington's 11 electoral votes (taking 50 percent of the state's vote to 45 percent for Bush and 4 percent for Nader) along with 19 other states and the District of Columbia, which totaled 267 electoral votes. Bush won 29 states totaling 246 electoral votes.

Florida's 25 electoral votes would decide the contest, but the winner in Florida was highly disputed. Bush's lead of less than one half of one percent following the election night count triggered a mandatory recount that dissolved into chaos and controversy. A poorly designed "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County confused many voters and there were reports of minority voters being denied access to the polls. Incompletely punched ballots triggered debates over "hanging chads" and "dimpled chads." Florida's Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris feuded with county election officials who wanted to hand count disputed ballots, and she certified Bush the winner by 537 votes. Both sides headed to the courts, and the election was ultimately decided by a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court, which on December 12, 2000, terminated the manual recount of disputed ballots. Gore conceded the next day.

Recount Without Rancor

The equally close Senate race in Washington was resolved without turmoil or resort to courts. County officials, supervised by Washington's Republican Secretary of State Ralph Munro, completing his final term in office, spent the two weeks following election day counting some 800,000 mail ballots. Gorton surged ahead in early tallies and maintained his lead until the final results from King County put Cantwell back in front by 1,953 votes -- well within the margin to trigger an automatic recount. Munro delivered on a promise that the process would be free of the rancor that marred the Florida recount, and there were no disputes over the final tally showing Cantwell won by 2,229 votes -- 1,199,437 (48.73 percent) to 1,197,208 (48.64 percent) for Gorton, with Libertarian Jeff Jared taking 64,734 votes (2.63 percent).

With Cantwell joining Patty Murray, who was first elected in 1992, Washington had two women senators for the first time. Cantwell became one of a record 13 women in the 100-member Senate, and Washington joined Maine and California in being represented by two women.

House Races and State Offices

Democratic Snohomish County Councilmember Rick Larsen (b. 1965) defeated Republican John Koster 50 percent (146,617 votes) to 46 percent (134,660 votes) to win the open House of Representatives seat in Northwest Washington's Second District. The incumbent, Republican Jack Metcalf (1927-2007), did not run, honoring the pledge he made when first elected in 1994 to serve only three terms.

In Eastern Washington's Fifth District, Republican George Nethercutt (b. 1944), who like Metcalf had pledged to serve only three terms when elected in 1994, changed his mind and won a fourth term. Nethercutt handily defeated Tom Keefe, 57 percent (144,038 votes) to 39 percent (97,703 votes), despite fierce opposition from term limits supporters who had backed him in 1994. Washington's other incumbent Representatives -- Democrats Jay Inslee (b. 1951) in the First District, Brian Baird (b. 1956) in the Third, Norm Dicks (b. 1940) in the Sixth, Jim McDermott (b. 1936) in the Seventh, and Adam Smith (b. 1965) in the Ninth, and Republicans Doc Hastings (b. 1941) in the Fourth, and Jennifer Dunn (1941-2007) in the Eighth -- also won re-election.

Democratic Governor Gary Locke cruised to re-election, defeating conservative commentator and initiative sponsor John Carlson 58 percent (1,441,973 votes) to 40 percent (980,060 votes). Fellow Republican Sam Reed succeeded Munro as Secretary of State, defeating Democratic former Congressman Don Bonker in a tight race that also triggered a recount, and Democrat Christine Gregoire easily won her third term as attorney general by defeating Richard Pope.

Seattle voters cast the second of what would ultimately be five votes on the proposed expansion of the monorail. Monorail backers Peter Sherwin and Cleve Stockmeyer drafted Initiative 53 in response to city officials' failure to support or fund Initiative 41, the original monorail measure that passed in 1997. The new measure authorized $6 million dollars for a new monorail study, repealed a City Council amendment that had curtailed the authority of the Elevated Transportation Company in charge of monorail planning, and reserved $200 million in borrowing capacity for possible monorail construction. Under pressure from project supporters, the City Council placed the measure on the ballot as Proposition 2, and it passed with 56 percent of the vote. Voters approved the Seattle Popular Monorail Plan in 2002 and turned back a "recall" measure in 2004 before overwhelmingly rejecting the troubled monorail expansion in 2005.


Joel Connelly, "Gorton Refuses to Concede Defeat," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 8, 2000, Website accessed November 14, 2003 (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/archives/); John K. Wiley, "Democrats Pick Up Metcalf's House Seat," Ibid.; Kathleen Best and James G. Wright, "Cantwell Wins After Final Votes Counted," November 22, 2000, Ibid.; Mike Spain, "Cantwell, Gorton Recount Starts Monday," November 26, 2000, Ibid.; David Ammons, "Cantwell Wins Last Unsettled Senate Race; Demos Have 50-50 Tie," December 1, 2000, Ibid.; "A Timeline: Events in Florida's Disputed Presidential Election," December 13, 2000, Ibid.; Joel Connelly, "In the Northwest: 2 Wafer-thin Victories That Seem to Have Worked Out," December 5, 2001, Ibid.; Office of the Secretary of State, "Washington State General Election -- November 7, 2000 -- Federal Offices," Website accessed November 14, 2003 (http://www.vote.wa.gov/2000/vote2000/results/fed_sum.tpl); Office of the Secretary of State, "Washington State General Election -- November 7, 2000 -- Statewide Offices," Website accessed November 14, 2003 (http://www.vote.wa.gov/2000/vote2000/results/state_sum.tpl ); Federal Election Commission, "2000 Presidential Popular Vote Summary," Website accessed November 14, 2003 (http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/fe2000/prespop.htm); Federal Election Commission, "2000 Presidential Electoral and Popular Vote," Website accessed November 14, 2003 (http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/fe2000/elecpop.htm); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History "Monorail, Seattle -- a Snapshot History (by Walt Crowley), http//:www.historylink.org.
Note: This essay was updated on March 16, 2007, and again on September 5, 2007.

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