- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

Campaign analysts say the Republican Party’s chances of defeating Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington have improved significantly as the Democrat has been forced to fend off rivals opposed to the war in Iraq.

Polls show Republican business executive Mike McGavick has moved within striking distance of Miss Cantwell, who this month persuaded one of her Democratic primary challengers to join her campaign.

“Two things are going on here,” said Mr. McGavick. “One, we’re getting better known and people know what my message is and that’s building support as we go along. On the other side of the equation, Cantwell continues to face a barrage of aggressive questions from Democrats on her support for the war.

“That is having the effect of pulling her support down,” said Mr. McGavick, who has spent the bulk of his $4.6 million campaign funding on TV ads to introduce himself to voters.

A Rasmussen poll on June 13 showed the former chief executive officer of Safeco Insurance Cos. trailing Miss Cantwell by 44 percent to 40 percent, but a Republican Strategic Vision poll conducted between June 23 and 25 had her leading by three points, 47 percent to 43 percent.

Miss Cantwell “is facing a tough challenge from … one of the strongest candidates Republicans have recruited this cycle,” Senate elections analyst Jennifer E. Duffy wrote in the Cook Political Report.

Miss Cantwell first has to win the state’s Democratic primary in September, which she is expected to do, and then will have to overcome at least two more anti-war candidates who are expected to steal support in the November general election.

When war opponent Mark Wilson dropped out of the primary contest to work for Miss Cantwell, it triggered a wave of critical press reports that suggested the Democratic senator had bought off one of her campaign opponents. Mr. Wilson had been a fierce critic of Miss Cantwell’s opposition to an immediate troop pullout from Iraq.

A National Republican Senatorial Committee press release on the reaction to Mr. Wilson’s sudden switch last week was headlined, “Cantwell’s campaign strategy: Going once, going twice … sold!”

Another anti-war Democrat remains in the primary race. Hong Tran, a lawyer who fled Vietnam with her family in the 1970s, said she is running as a critic of Miss Cantwell’s war stance. She said last week that she, too, was asked to join the Cantwell campaign, but declined.

In the general election, Bruce Guthrie of the Libertarian Party and Aaron Dixon of the Green Party also will be on the ballot running as anti-war candidates.

Mr. McGavick said two major issues were driving his campaign and striking a responsive chord in the electorate.

“One is to promote a civil campaign that says this rank partisanship and mean-spiritedness has to stop,” he said.

“The other is immigration. The senator and I couldn’t disagree more on securing our southern borders and the idea that we should end Social Security benefits to those working here illegally.”