Washington state voters tomorrow will formally choose their nominees for the U.S. Senate, setting the stage for a West Coast showdown that Republicans hope will help them capture a Democratic seat.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, faces anti-war candidate Hong Tran in a primary that serves as the opening act for a race with Republican Mike McGavick, who is expected to easily win his own primary contest today.
Republicans and some pollsters think Mr. McGavick, a business executive who casts himself as an independent, has a good shot at ousting the freshman senator this fall.
Miss Tran, a nonprofit lawyer who fled Vietnam as a young girl, spent yesterday at a Seattle Peace concert wooing last-minute voters.
Miss Cantwell is not considered in danger of losing tomorrow’s primary as did her Democratic colleague Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Mr. Lieberman lost his primary to Ned Lamont last month, largely because of his support of President Bush on the Iraq war, and will run as an independent in November.
Initially, Miss Cantwell faced opposition from several Democrats critical of her stance on the Iraq war.
Mark Wilson, who announced that he would challenge Miss Cantwell more than a year ago, was hired by the senator’s campaign this summer. He became an outreach director with an $8,000 monthly salary, prompting accusations that she was trying to buy off her critics.
Miss Tran has accused state Democratic Party officials of withholding voter databases from her campaign, saying they don’t want voters to know about her candidacy.
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.
Miss Cantwell and Mr. McGavick were closely matched earlier in the race, but recent revelations that the Republican was arrested for driving under the influence in 1993 have contributed to his sagging poll numbers. Mr. McGavick, a millionaire who was chief executive at insurance giant Safeco, characterizes the event as “embarrassing” and “one of my biggest mistakes in life.”
“Candidates shouldn’t be afraid to admit that they are human and to talk about lessons they’ve learned,” Mr. McGavick told supporters in an e-mail recently.
He first told voters that he had coasted through a yellow light, prompting a DUI citation. However, news reports based on the police report show that he ran a red light and was both cited and arrested.
A Sept. 6 Rasmussen Reports poll showed Miss Cantwell with a 17-point lead, but others had her with an eight-point advantage. A poll from the previous month had the senator with a six-point lead.
However, the Associated Press reported last week that Miss Cantwell secured more than $11 million in federal projects for a lobbyist who advises her campaign.
The accusations involve Ron Dotzauer, her former campaign manager who still owes her between $15,000 and $50,000 from a loan she gave him in the 1990s.