The almighty pollsters were wrong about two things: Florida (as we'll discuss below) and the turnout. While many pollsters were expecting a record low turnout, the people confounded them by going to the polls in droves. Lines were out the door in Eastern Washington and across the nation, where some polling places had to stay open later than expected.
And as of press time early Wednesday morning, Slade Gorton hadn't conceded to Maria Cantwell, although she was declared the winner in an extremely close race by most election watchers. And the race for president was still too close to call, with just a few hundred votes separating George W. Bush from Al Gore in Florida.
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Although Washington state went for Al Gore fairly convincingly, the big story of the race was in Florida, where all the major TV networks called the race for Gore early in the evening, only to have to eat their words later when George W. Bush took that state -- apparently. Later, in the wee hours of the morning, the state was again called too close to call, and, at press time early Wednesday morning, it appeared it could be hours or days before the matter was settled.
The erroneous call early in the evening may have pushed Ralph Nader's numbers higher on the West Coast, where many were expected to practice strategic voting (only voting for Nader if Gore was winning). By projecting Florida in Gore's column, could the networks have sent a signal to voters that it was okay to switch to Nader when it really wasn't? That's the question Democrats are left to ponder, and it's already clear that the mainstream media will get a big black eye over such a colossal blunder. But for Republicans, if Florida holds via Nader's help, it will be sweet irony, as George Bush Sr. saw his reelection bid derailed by a third party candidate, Ross Perot.
Spokane and Eastern Washington were Bush country, essentially mirroring the national trend that had Bush winning in the more rural leaning areas and Gore winning in the more urban parts of the country.
"I voted for Bush, based on the abortion issue," said Kristi Slak, outside the Manito United Methodist Church on South Grand, where she voted. "I'm pro life, and I think this may be a real pivotal election when it comes to abortion. Who becomes president means a lot as to who gets appointed to the Supreme Court, and maybe some of these issues, like partial birth abortion, will finally get decided."
Such a close race was no big surprise, as both candidates had to overcome significant disadvantages. Bush made mistakes, as in not picking a strategic vice president (like Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge), making statements about supporting affirmative access instead of Affirmative Action and even misspeaking about Social Security not being a federal program.
Meanwhile Gore had to campaign with one hand tied behind his back. Unlike any previous sitting vice president, he actually had to run away from the Bill Clinton record because of the bad memories (aka Monica Lewinsky) he feared it would rekindle. Trouble was, the Clinton record on the economy was his best issue, and he never could make a strong enough case for it.
Whoever wins, it will be a very split nation, which could manifest itself in more gridlock than we've already seen, or in leadership that genuinely attempts to bridge the gaps to find some common ground and move the nation forward.
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The key issue here was whether you believed Maria Cantwell was trying to buy the election or whether she was the only candidate who could not be bought. After the onslaught of campaign ads surrounding this race, perhaps enough people were persuaded that all the money behind Slade Gorton's reelection effort was inappropriate.
"I voted for Maria Cantwell," said Janet Weed, who voted at the East Central Community Center on South Stone. "I like the way she didn't take big money from anyone. If you take millions from some company, don't tell me you can say that doesn't influence your position. Of course it does."
Now Washington joins California as the only state in the union with two women senators.
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Both candidates had what would have appeared to be fatal flaws in this race. George Nethercutt's breaking of his three-term pledge seemed to balance against Tom Keefe's short residency in the 5th district. In the end, it appears that what usually decides house races came to the top: the power of seniority. While it didn't help Tom Foley back in 1994, the district's voters seem to have gotten over that anti-entrenched incumbent feeling. This time, people chose the man who has the ability to deliver the goods for his district over the man who would have to start out at the bottom of the seniority stack.
"I voted for Nethercutt," says Kathy Smith, who voted at the Northeast Community Center on North Cook. "I support his view on term limits, and I think he should keep working for it. But he should have come out back then, after three years when he discovered he didn't have the support for term limits, and say he was wrong -- that he didn't know the people with the most power in Congress were the ones that had been there the longest. Term limits is only okay of it applies to everyone."
But winning wasn't easy -- or cheap. Spending on Nethercutt's behalf was probably in the top 20 Congressional races in the nation. And as the campaign went on, Nethercutt's forces had to resort to some of the most negative campaign ads ever seen in the district. Still, Tom Keefe remains upbeat even after his defeat.
"I'd like to congratulate George Nethercutt," said Tom Keefe, while addressing his staff at campaign headquarters on West First late Tuesday evening. "Today may be the end of this campaign, but it's not the end of my work. Tomorrow, they'll still have Tom Keefe, a guy who lives on the South Hill and stands up for what he believes in and is not afraid to talk about it."
For local Democrats, it's a bitter pill that underlines how unorganized the party has been during life after Foley. This was the party's best shot to win back the seat, and it couldn't even field a powerful candidate until late in the game when Keefe entered the race. Now the path seems clearly Republican, and Nethercutt may parallel Foley's career even more, as today it seems as if he could serve a very career politician-esque 15 terms if he chooses.
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You can look at this race two ways. You can say that for a first-time candidate whose main political experience was as a talk radio host and supporter of statewide ballot initiatives, John Carlson did quite well. But for a state Republican Party desperate for a statewide win, Carlson was just more of the same story that started with Ellen Craswell and continued through Linda Smith and now ends in another defeat with Carlson. But the fresh-faced Carlson is clearly a rising star in the party, and you can expect him to be back sometime soon.
Locke, meanwhile, has quietly become one of the state's most popular governors. State Democrats are wondering, however, if Locke will be more aggressive fighting Republicans for progressive issues. And the people appear to have at least given him the majority in the state House of Representatives that he has wanted.
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The question here was whether the initiative express that has plowed through state government for the last decade would slow down or just keep on rolling. The result is a mixed bag, although groups wanting to spend taxes rather than cut them got into the act with some success. Both teacher-backed initiatives -- to give teachers annual cost-of-living raises and to reallocate state money to education -- were widely supported. And Tim Eyman's "Son of 695" won, too, seemingly reaffirming his anti-tax message. But his other initiative, 745, which would have reorganized the transportation budget in favor of more roads, was put down. And charter schools suffered a narrow defeat, while the anti-trapping initiative won.
So will there be more initiatives in the coming years? It looks very likely, especially in light of the teachers' success to get the people to part with their money in the name of a good cause. There are other good causes out there, like universal health care, as Massachusetts voted on, and we may see more of them. But voters also showed they are inconsistent in endorsing tax limitations and tax spending proposals in the same election. Apparently people think you can have both, and while that may work in good economic times like these, it's not a sustainable way to run a state.
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A heavy turnout in the City of Spokane guaranteed that whoever won the strong mayor election would have a mandate from the people. But in the end, it was a political newcomer, who a year ago had zero name recognition, winning the city's new top spot. Spokane has a history of favoring the challenger in its mayoral races, and this year was no different, as John Powers won the election over incumbent John Talbott.
While Powers hammered away at a message of inclusiveness, Talbott's campaign seemed overcome by outside messages that called Powers' motives into question. Talbott never asked those messages to stop, but he did say they were beyond his control.
As Powers spoke to the gathered crowd at the Steam Plant on election night, he took a shot at that campaign, saying, "I'm glad you could see through the fog to come here tonight," referring to the group CFOG (Citizens for Fair and Open Government) that tried to make the race a referendum on the River Park Square issue. If the race did become such a referendum, it apparently wasn't a good strategy for Talbott.
"I'm not surprised that we are behind," Talbott said at the Schade Brewery while the votes were still being tallied. "If you have $300,000 being spent against you, then that's not surprising. We'll see if people are counting votes or dollars here."
But Powers followed a script that Talbott first wrote in coming out of nowhere to unseat the incumbent. A cheering crowd of about 200 listened as Powers launched into what sounded like a halftime pep talk for his football squad.
"This is about the hundreds and thousands in our community who want to do better," Powers told the crowd.
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While Powers claims he is not from one side or the other of the River Park Square dilemma, Rob Higgins is squarely in the corner of those who want the city to live by its commitment. In beating Steve Corker, who has been a part of the new council majority, Higgins seems to repudiate the new majority's pursuit of the issue. Whether the new majority overstepped their mandate or whatever, the voters clearly wanted to make a completely fresh start with the new form of government.
Higgins is viewed by some as a council president who will be easier for Powers to work with, and he was at the Powers rally, clearly enjoying the refrain of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." When asked if River Park Square was the key to the race, he dismissed the thought.
"Some people may see it like that, but I really think [the election result] shows that people want to move forward," said Higgins. "They want to resolve the issues, and those issues also include job creation and street repair."
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While the strong mayor and presidential races captured everyone's attention, the two county commissioners' races were somewhat lost in the shuffle. Or maybe it was just that there weren't that many issues with the incumbents, Kate McCaslin and John Roskelley, who both won easily.
Some voters said it was hard to get a bead on the commissioner races.
"County commissioner was a hard one, I just kind of voted and hope for the best," said Ronald Barnes, who cast his ballot at the Spokane Valley Baptist Church on South McDonald but didn't say who he cast it for. "People have to get smart about it. With I-695, I don't think most people think we still have the same amount of money to spend."
But the two incumbents seem to have convinced the voters that they are good stewards of the public's money, as they said throughout the campaign, pointing to the healthy reserve the county has amassed. And the challengers seemed to have a hard time finding issues that they could really wedge against the incumbents.
"It's difficult to get the issues out," admitted Roskelley on election night. "I rely on the media a lot, and I find that sound-bites are not working. I like to speak more in depth to the issues. It's been a hard race."