Washington: Junior Senator|
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D)
Last Updated September 15, 2003
Maria Cantwell is a Democrat elected in the closest Senate race of 2000. Cantwell grew up in Indianapolis, where her father, a construction worker, served as county commissioner, city councilman and state legislator. She graduated from Miami University (Ohio) in 1980--the first in her family to graduate from college--and worked in Ohio for Jerry Springer's 1982 campaign for governor. Then she worked for Senator Alan Cranston's presidential campaign and went to Seattle to set up a regional campaign office. The Cranston campaign went nowhere, and so did Cantwell: she loved the Pacific Northwest and decided to stay. She moved to Mountlake Terrace, a suburb in Snohomish County just north of Seattle, where she organized a coalition to build a new library. In 1986, at 28, she was elected to the Washington House.
In 1992 Cantwell ran for the House, for the just redrawn 1st District seat being vacated by Republican John Miller. She won a solid 55%-42% victory. In the House she supported the family and medical leave bill and the Clinton economic plan; she did not support the Clinton health care plan and only supported NAFTA at the last minute. She was a strong supporter of abortion rights and of stands backed by environmental advocacy groups. But by fall 1994 some of those positions had become unpopular. In the September 1994 all-party primary she got just 44% of the vote, compared to 52% for three Republican candidates. In November she lost 52%-48% to Republican nominee Rick White.
Back in the Seattle area, she joined a startup firm called Progressive Networks in 1995; five years later it had become RealNetworks, a leader in Internet-based audio and visual software. In late 1999 her stock was worth about $40 million, and she decided to run against Republican Senator Slade Gorton. A brainy and hard-working veteran of Washington politics, Gorton served as attorney general from 1968 to 1980 and was elected senator in 1980, 1988 and 1994 (he lost a race in 1986). Gorton had an increasingly conservative record on environmental and economic issues; he was also Microsoft's leading advocate on Capitol Hill. Cantwell was an answer to Democrats' prayers; their well-known House members had declined to run, and Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, who was running, was widely considered too liberal to win. They had different role models: Cantwell called herself a New Democrat in the Clinton mode, while Senn said her role model was Senator Barbara Mikulski. But the real difference was money. Cantwell, who liquidated more than $5 million of her RealNetworks stock, spent freely, while Senn was on TV only during the last two weeks before the September all-party primary. Cantwell won 37% of the total vote, to only 13% for Senn; Gorton, with 44% of the vote, was ahead but short of a majority.
For the general Cantwell said she would spend "whatever it takes" to win. At the same time, she made her support of McCain-Feingold-type campaign finance regulation a major issue, and refused to take contributions from PACs or soft money from the Democratic Party (though it put $640,000 into the state before Cantwell won the primary). She charged that Gorton was beholden to special interest contributors, singling out his last-night amendment to open a cyanide-leach gold mine in Okanogan County. Gorton called Cantwell an old-style liberal Democrat who would have government meddling in health care, education and local environmental issues. Cantwell highlighted her experience in the high-tech private sector. She called Gorton divisive, saying he pit eastern Washington against Seattle on environmental and other issues. Overall, Cantwell spent $11.5 million, $10.3 million of which she contributed; Gorton spent $6.4 million.
Gorton led on election night, but not by much. Washington allows absentee voting, and 54% of the votes were cast absentee; two days after the election, one-quarter of the votes had yet to be counted. During the three weeks of counting, Gorton seemed to have the advantage. But the last two day's absentee ballots from King County put Cantwell over the top by 1,953. A mandated recount left the margin at 2,229 for Cantwell, out of 2.4 million cast. Cantwell carried only five counties--King, Snohomish, Thurston (which includes the state capital of Olympia) and two small counties in the west. She won King County 59%-39%; she also carried the rest of western Washington 50%-47%. Gorton carried eastern Washington 61%-36%--a lot but not quite enough to win. Cantwell's victory created a tie in the Senate, until James Jeffords became an independent in May 2001 and gave Democrats a razor-thin majority. This race was a very big loss for the Republican Party.
In the Senate Cantwell worked hard on campaign finance in the March 2001 two-week session on the issue. After September 11, she put an amendment into the Patriot Act tripling the number of border guards on the Canadian border and another to require the administration to develop a form of biometric identification, perhaps by facial recognition software. On the Judiciary Committee she advanced a bill to give consumers redress against identity theft. In May 2002 she urged FERC to cancel electricity contracts entered into during 2001; the Bonneville Power Authority had raised rates 46%. The bill she and Bob Smith sponsored to end the requirement that military women stationed in Saudi Arabia be required to wear abayas off base passed in June 2002. Her bill to provide federal funding of DNA analysis passed the Senate in September 2002. In January 2003 her amendment to require the Bush administration to release $300 million in low income heating assistance passed overwhelmingly; two days later the administration released $200 million. In February 2003 she and Texas's Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced a bill to allow taxpayers to deduct state sales taxes as well as state income taxes on their federal income tax forms; Texas like Washington has a sales tax but no income tax. In January 2003 she moved off the strife-torn Judiciary Committee to Commerce, where she promised to look after Washington interests. In December 2001 and February 2003 she traveled to Cuba and tried to spur interest in Washington peas, lentils and wine. Unlike her colleague Patty Murray, she voted for the Iraq war resolution in October 2002.
A strong supporter of campaign finance regulation, Cantwell had campaign finance problems of her own. To finance her 2000 campaign she had sold $5.6 million of her RealNetworks stock and had borrowed $3.8 million from a bank with RealNetworks stock as collateral. But RealNetwork, like so many high-tech firms, saw its stock price plummet, from $80 in spring 2000 to $6 in spring 2001. Suddenly she owed far more than the collateral was worth. She negotiated another loan due December 2001, guaranteed by the DSCC, which of course could use soft money to pay it off. And she began raising money, from committed Democrats and from Washington lobbyists. She raised $3.3 million in 2001 and 2002, but in early 2003 her campaign was still in debt and her personal net worth was evidently below $1 million. But she had never shown much interest in an affluent lifestyle, and she proved the old rule that the smart thing to do with bubble money is to use it to buy something you want. Her 2006 campaign will presumably not be self-financed, and presumably will be conducted in different style; she has been traveling by car, not plane, to keep her promise to visit each of Washington's 39 counties every year.
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202-224-3441; Fax: 202-228-0514; Web site: cantwell.senate.gov
509-946-8106; Seattle,206-220-6400; Spokane,509-353-2507; Vancouver,360-696-7838.
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For National Journal's complete 2002 Vote Ratings, as well as previous ratings dating back to 1995, please click here.|
Key Votes Of The 107th Congress
|1. Approve Bush Tax Cuts
|2. Expand Patients' Rights
|3. Campaign Finance Reform
|4. Permit ANWR Development
|5. Confirm Ashcroft as AG
|6. Bar Gays in the Boy Scouts
| 7. $ for Hate Crime Prosecution
| 8. Overseas Military Abortions
| 9. Bar Coop. with Intl. Court
|10. Trade Promotion Authority
|11. Authorize Force in Iraq
|12. Homeland Sec. Dept. Union
||Maria Cantwell (D)
|Slade Gorton (R)
||Slade Gorton (R)
|Maria Cantwell (D)
|Deborah Senn (D)
||Slade Gorton (R)
|Ron Sims (D)
Prior winning percentages:
1992 House (55%)
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