Microbacklash: Dog Won't Hunt

When a federal judge ordered the breakup of Microsoft last week, U.S. Senator Slade Gorton predicted the action would be a factor in the presidential election in Washington State, home of the software giant.

"If Governor Bush is elected president, in my opinion, the case will be settled in an amicable fashion with a year … and Microsoft will be able to go back to its primary business," said Gorton, R-Wash. "The people of Washington will have an opportunity to voice their own views of this prosecution in November by the way in which they vote."

But Gorton's message didn't play, says University of Washington political scientist David Olson.

"The Republican party has not made this an issue in this state," he says.

Olson thinks Gorton's comments have been undercut by Republicans in other states, especially those which are home to Microsoft's competitors. A number of powerful Republicans in Washington, chief among them Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, whose state is home of Microsoft rival Novell Inc., have backed Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's ruling. Moreover, the judge himself is a conservative Republican, appointed during the Reagan administration.

"I think this (issue) is a non-starter," says Olson.

He sees no backlash against Gore in November, despite the fact the company has evolved into a key player in the state economy, employing almost 20,000 people who make an average of $400,000 annually, including stock options.

Stuart Elway, who conducts polls on the presidential race in Washington State, has yet to see the issue become prominent.

Still, his most recent poll (conducted May 19-23) shows Texas Gov. George W. Bush has increased his lead over the vice president slightly between April and May, from a 39-38 percentage point margin to 37-33.

Washington has a long history as an independent-minded swing state. Even though Bill Clinton carried the state in 1992 and 1996, he did so without receiving a majority (winning 43 and 50 percent of the vote.)

Elway's tracking polls also show the number of undecided voters increased by 10 percent between April and May, perhaps indicating that voters see the presidential election in the same way they view the Microsoft legal battle - as a long way from being over.