Candidates aim at Gorton
Seattle Times political reporter
Questions in the first televised debate between Democratic Senate candidates Deborah Senn and Maria Cantwell last night may have been about dams, farms and campaign finances, but Sen. Slade Gorton was often the answer.
As they have through most of the campaign, Senn and Cantwell focused their attacks on the incumbent Republican they each hope to face after the Sept. 19 primary election.
When Cantwell was asked about financing her campaign with personal wealth, she said that allows her to escape the special interests that are helping to finance Gorton's campaign. Senn attacked Gorton for his stand on Snake River dams, even though she now largely agrees with him that they should not be torn down.
They focused on the incumbent so much that moderator Dennis Bounds said at one point that if Gorton were watching at home, "he would probably like a rebuttal."
With time running out in the primary campaign, the candidates also tried to sharpen their appeal to Democratic voters.
Senn, the two-term state insurance commissioner, said she had more endorsements, more donors and a record of working for consumers that make her the "candidate of the people." Cantwell, a former congresswoman and high-tech executive, continued to defend her personal wealth that is paying for her campaign as an attribute - a way to escape special interests.
She has spent $4 million of her own money so far in the race and said that if elected she would continue her policy against taking political-action-committee money, even in any future re-election campaign.
The hourlong debate brought out some differences between the candidates.
While both Democrats have criticized Gorton for his use of legislative riders to attach favorite projects to bills in the Senate, they split last night on whether they would use them if they replaced Gorton.
Cantwell said she would push to eliminate the practice. Senn said the practice of attaching projects to unrelated legislation is not bad, although the way Gorton has done it - without public comment, she said - is objectionable.
Senn and Cantwell have criticized Gorton for using a Kosovo aid bill to attach a rider that would allow operation of an Eastern Washington gold mine.
Gorton spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said last night that Washington residents have benefited from Gorton riders, including money to pay for World Trade Organization costs, disaster relief and funding for the National Park Service.
She said that by opposing all riders, "Maria Cantwell is cutting herself off at the knees and saying, `I wouldn't do what is needed to fight for the people of Washington.' "
In the past Senn and Cantwell have been vague about removing dams to protect salmon, saying they wanted to wait until more research had been done before taking a position. Last night both were more clearly opposed to removing Snake River dams, putting them closer to Gorton on the issue.
"I don't support dam-breaching," Cantwell said. "I support habitat restoration and stream restoration."
Said Senn, "I do not advocate breaching Snake River dams."
Also last night, Senn expressed reservations about the Clinton administration's trade policy on China.
"I support free and fair trade," Senn said. "We need to export wheat, apples and airplanes, but we also need to export fair labor standards, fair environmental standards and our love of democracy. . . . I want both trade and human rights at the same time, and I absolutely believe that can be done."
Cantwell supports granting permanent normal trade relations with China.
Senn has won the lion's share of labor endorsements in the Democratic primary. Unions oppose a bill moving through Congress to grant China permanent trading status rather than review trade relations annually.
Senn said last night that she would support renewing China's trade status at least temporarily and "hold China's feet to the fire" on labor and human-rights standards before eventually granting permanent normal trade relations.
The debate was broadcast statewide from the studios of KING-TV and sponsored by the station, The Seattle Times and the League of Women Voters.
The studio audience was supposed to be able to question the candidates. The League of Women Voters was to have screened people to find undecided voters.
But as the audience filtered in, KING producer Mike Cate said it was obvious that most in the crowd were Senn supporters. Many wore Senn stickers and campaign buttons.
"To me, that just immediately negated the impartiality," Cate said of the audience questions. He canceled the audience-participation portion shortly before the debate began.
Cantwell campaign manager Ron Dotzauer said he also recognized many Senn supporters, including some from organizations that have endorsed Senn.
"In that room was every enemy Maria Cantwell has in politics," Dotzauer said. He said he complained to Cate and accused Senn's campaign of trying to pack the crowd with supporters.
Senn laughed at the charge, saying she used tickets the station gave her to bring her husband and a few campaign supporters, including two people in the audience she had helped as insurance commissioner.
Without the audience, questions came from a panel of four journalists and the moderator, KING anchor Bounds.
Cantwell got several questions about her personal wealth and the millions she has already put into the campaign.
She said that doing without PAC money shows she is not "listening to special interests in the other Washington."
Also in the debate:
Cantwell attacked a television commercial paid for by a Virginia-based group, partly funded initially by the American Insurance Association, that recounts her votes in Congress and says she voted for higher taxes on gasoline, electricity and Social Security benefits.
"There are distortions in that ad," Cantwell said, but she did not offer specifics. She did say she voted for the Clinton budget plan in 1993, which she said was important to boost the nation's economy.
The candidates were asked how much money they gave to charity last year. Senn said between 5 percent and 10 percent of her annual income. Cantwell said she had probably given a like amount but said, "I'd have to check."
Both candidates responded to questions about how their personalities would affect their role in the Senate. Cantwell, who has been called aloof and cold, said newspapers that have endorsed her instead call her "soft-spoken and effective."
Senn, who has been called abrasive and combative, said she has been effective in protecting consumers. But she said her personality would help in the Senate: "I'll shake it up a little bit, too."
Asked if they would support a pardon for President Clinton if he were indicted after leaving office, Cantwell said that if the president is held to the same standards as every other person, "there won't be a need for a presidential pardon." Senn said only that Clinton should be held to the same legal standards as anyone else facing the same potential charges.
The sharpest retorts of the night revisited a familiar issue in the campaign, Cantwell's role as an executive of RealNetworks, a Seattle company criticized by privacy experts for problems with one of its products.
"This campaign is about performance, not made-for-TV promises," Senn said, saying a Cantwell TV ad about privacy "doesn't show her true record."
Said Cantwell of Senn's attacks: "This really does sum up this campaign right here. We already have a U.S. senator who pits regions of the state against each other, people of the state against each other and businesses against each other. Why would we want to elect another one?"
David Postman is the Seattle Times' chief political reporter. His phone message number is 360-943-9882. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
EXCERPTS FROM LAST NIGHT'S DEBATE
Don Porter: This question is to Maria Cantwell. The latest figures on file with the (federal) elections commission show that you have contributed something in the neighborhood of $4 million dollars of your own money to your campaign. Given the size of that number, why shouldn't voters consider the fact that you've been pretty lucky, first of all lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time in the high-tech industry to earn that money, and then lucky enough to in effect spend your way towards this Democratic nomination?
Maria Cantwell: First, I do want to thank KING-TV and The Seattle Times and KREM-TV for allowing us to have this debate today. The specifics on your question. When I decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat, one of the things that motivated me to do that was that I thought the other Washington was listening to more of the special interests than listening to the voice of the people. And I decided I was going to run my campaign differently, that I was going to go around the state and listen to the voice of the people instead of taking special-interest PAC money. I also thought of the issue that Senator Gorton in his last campaign outspent his opponent 5-to-1, and the fact that he says he will probably spend somewhere around $8 million dollars in this race. Now I'm in a position of even getting attacked by both my primary opponent and having $500,000 dollars by the insurance industry spent against me. So, I am in this race to make a change in the U.S. Senate race, and I'm very glad to have that opportunity.
Dionne Searcey: This is a question for both candidates. You've been both criticized for personality quirks. People have characterized Ms. Senn as abrasive and Ms. Cantwell as cold and aloof. How do you address concerns that this could limit your effectiveness in the U.S. Senate?
Dennis Bounds: Commissioner Senn, you are first on this one.
Deborah Senn: First let me say that I'm so proud of my record as insurance commissioner. In fact today in the audience is Victoria Doyle who had a heart transplant and was denied specific drug coverage. And Christine Malone whose son Ian was denied care for their baby by the insurance company. If I've been aggressive on behalf of the consumers of this state, then I am doing my job. And so I really believe that I have been so successful getting legislation passed, I'm endorsed by 55 members of our Legislature, two-thirds of the Democrats, and so many organizations across the state. That I'm an enormously effective elected official and will do so as a U.S. Senator.
Bounds: Ms. Cantwell?
Cantwell: Well, I'm very proud to have the support of nine different newspapers across our state. These are people who have looked at our records and followed us both for 10-plus years, our accomplishments and then have sat down and talked with us about the issues. To your point, Dionne, those editorials have called me soft-spoken, effective, a consensus builder, working with people, and really log my legislative accomplishments. And I'm proud of that. Because I think in politics it's not about the divisiveness of politics - people are tired of that. What they want is somebody who's going to work on the issues that they believe in.
John Hendren: Who do you admire most in political history and who would you choose as either allies or mentors in the Senate now?
Cantwell: I often say that I admire my parents from a political perspective, because they both found a way to be involved in their community, even though they were working and raising a family. They fought for their political views. I feel today that so many people are turned off by the political system that they don't want to fight for that. So that's inspired me to get back in to public service. At the national level there's a lot of people who I admire. I certainly admire the two gentlemen who are running for the national ticket, Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Gore, because I think they fight for their convictions.
Bounds: Anyone in the Senate that comes to mind?
Cantwell: I've served with both Dick Durbin and Bob Torricelli as well as Mr. (Charles) Schumer from New York. And all of those gentlemen I enjoyed working with, because again they worked hard for the people of their state.Bounds: Commissioner Senn.
Senn: Maybe it's not a famous figure, but I would have to say the person who really led me and led my interest in politics was my 10th grade biology teacher. She was involved in the community. She brought me into politics. And I admire her so much . . . In terms of the U.S. Senate, I was on a tour with the six Democratic women U.S. senators, and they are an awesome group of individuals. I toured with Senator (Barbara) Mikulski, Senator (Dianne) Feinstein, Senator (Barbara) Boxer, Patty Murray, (Mary) Landrieu and (Blanche Lambert) Lincoln. I know the women in the Senate on both sides of the aisle worked well together and I really look forward to that relationship.
Bounds: All of the above.
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