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Too close to call: Senator Microsoft's career hangs by a thread

MS defender Gorton tying with RealNetworks exec challenger in Washington

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The most Microsoft-friendly senator in the US is in deep trouble this morning, with the vote in the company's home state of Washington tied at 49 per cent apiece. Senator Slade Gorton and challenger Maria Cantwell jockeyed for a tiny lead in the early hours, and it could be a long, nail-biting process before either can be declared victor.

Washington State is one place in the country where the Microsoft trial has been an election issue. Gorton has raged mightily on the subject, denouncing the trial and the breakup order, and claiming it's all the doing of the Clinton-Gore administration, the Democrats and Big Government. More locally, he has focussed on alleged fuzziness and equivocation on the issue by Cantwell.

Cantwell made a bundle out of RealNetworks after her last political tour ended with her being losing her Congress seat (upside for Slade: if he loses, maybe he could get into an IT startup as well, and bounce back with a Cantwell-sized war chest in four years?). RealNetworks of course was involved in the trial, with Rob Glaser claiming his company had been the victim of Microsoft breakware. More recent developments in IE however make it clear he hadn't seen nothing yet.

Gorton claims Cantwell has wobbled on Microsoft, citing Seattle Times claims that she's come out in support of the lawsuit at one time and against it at another. Cantwell now apparently opposes the breakup, but goes for an attack response, rather messy point by point rebuttal.

The good Senator for Microsoft, she claims, was actually dozing gently on the subject of Microsoft until 1998, when he belatedly realised that a group of Republican Senators led by Orrin Hatch (the good Senator for Novell) were attempting to tie the company down. She cites one of Gorton's own press releases of the era, where indeed he expresses himself shocked by the actions of this group, as evidence.

If Cantwell does finally come out on top, however, it's not likely to make much difference to Microsoft. The company will have lost its noisiest supporter in the Senate, but Cantwell will need to support the local team and oppose breakup too, so Redmond can work with her. ®

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