- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Republicans are preparing for bruising midterm elections, but they see a bright spot on the electoral map in Washington, where Sen. Maria Cantwell is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

The freshman senator is receiving criticism from the left and right and faces a primary challenge on Sept. 19.

Republican opponent Mike McGavick is a wealthy businessman who can fund most of his campaign, but party faithful also are banking on strong grass-roots support. Many state Republicans are still angry about the 2004 gubernatorial race, which their candidate, Dino Rossi, lost by fewer than 200 votes after two recounts and a court battle.

“I think Washington Republicans felt ripped off when they lost their governor’s race as it finished up last time,” said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “That gives us some added bonus.”

Mr. Reynolds said he has seen intense voter interest in Miss Cantwell’s seat and some House seats.

Miss Cantwell, 47, leads Mr. McGavick in all statewide polls, but by no more than five percentage points and with many voters still undecided.

Former President Bill Clinton has appealed on behalf of the incumbent.

“We are so close to recapturing control of both houses of Congress and Washington state is now in play for the Republicans,” Mr. Clinton says on Miss Cantwell’s campaign Web site. “You more than most Americans know that every single vote counts. One vote can change the direction of our entire country.”

Miss Cantwell received 49 percent of the vote in 2000 and unseated the Republican incumbent, Sen. Slade Gorton, by fewer than 2,300 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee campaigned against the Democrat during a visit to Washington Monday.

He slammed Miss Cantwell for opposing a bill that would have raised the minimum wage and cut the estate tax, calling her an obstructionist. The measure included a timber industry tax deduction as an incentive for Miss Cantwell’s support, but the senator joined other Democrats to defeat the bill, calling it “bad for Washington workers” because it would have cut wages for tip earners.

Mr. Clinton and other Democrats call Miss Cantwell a “voice for common sense,” who has become an “important leader” in her six years in the Senate.

“Because Maria stands up to special interests in the other Washington, they’ve made Washington state a top target this year,” Mr. Clinton said.

Miss Cantwell’s television ads portray her as a senator who is working to protect the environment and help working families.

“Maria Cantwell is not afraid to take on the tough fights for the people of Washington state,” the ads say.

Last month, one of her most vocal critics from the left agreed to join her campaign. Democrat Mark Wilson, who had run a primary challenge for more than a year, was hired as an outreach director with an $8,000 monthly salary. The senator reportedly offered a similar job to her remaining Democratic opponent, and Republicans suggested Miss Cantwell was paying to silence her critics.

Miss Cantwell voted in favor of the Iraq war in October 2002, but recently supported a Democratic effort to initiate a “phased redeployment” of troops from Iraq by Dec. 31.

Her challenger in the Democratic primary is war critic Hong Tran, a nonprofit lawyer who fled Vietnam as a child. Miss Cantwell is expected to win the primary, but the challenge is sapping some of the cash and energy she will need to fight off her Republican opponent.

Mr. McGavick made his money as chief executive at insurance giant Safeco.

“We’re a nation at war,” and “it doesn’t get any more serious than that,” his ad says.

He appears in one ad with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and espouses a message of “coming together” and overcoming “partisan nonsense” to solve the nation’s problems such as the growing deficit and the number of uninsured children.

“I don’t think all the people in Congress are bad folk,” he said, but “they have lost touch with our anxiety about these issues.”

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