Key contests that may shape next year's Congress; Washington State race: a 40-year record on the line

After more than four decades on Capital Hill, the senior lawmaker in Con gress is facing perhaps the toughest election of his career. Sen. Warren G. Magnuson of Washington -- New Deal Democrat and powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- is being challenged by popular Republican state Attorney General Slade Gorton.

Senator Magnuson makes much of the public-works projects and other federal largess the state has received through the years he has been in Congress -- most recently nearly $1 billion in Mt. St. Helens disaster relief.

If the veteran incumbent wishes to take credit for such aid, asserts Mr. Gorton, then he also should bear major responsibility for the nation's poor economic state.

Other observers note that voters in the relatively bustling Northwest are not as impressed these days with a new dam, defense contract, or other gifts from Uncle Sam as they may have been in years passed.

In his past two elections, Magnuson won by more than 60 percent. Recent polls show this race much closer, however. Magnuson campaign spokesman George Behan says, "The competition is certainly tougher this time."

"Slade Gorton is an attractive candidate," says University of Washington political scientist David Olson. "He has the resources, he's getting a lot of national money, and he was wide name recognition."

Gorton is considered a moderate Republican and fiscal conservative. But he is not perceived as partial to big businss. During his three terms as state attorney general he actively prosecuted anti-trust cases against banking, real estate, and other industries.

"He managed to make an awful lot of big people mad," says campaign spokesman Kirk Smith. for this reason, leaders of many corporations, banks, and other businesses are backing Magnuson.

Still, Gorton is seen as having a very real chance of becoming the first Republican senator from Washington since 1946.

Senator Magnuson's age is a key, although subtle, issue in the campaign. He is 75. Gorton's television ads show the GOP candidate jogging, and he chides the incumbent for refusing to debate or otherwise appear alongside him in any forum.

Magnuson says the relevant point is experience and accumulated power on Capitol Hill.

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