GOP sees hope for Cantwell seat; senator vulnerable in Washington
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.
Thefreshmansenatorisreceiving criticism from the left and right and facesaprimarychallengeonSept.19.
Republican opponent Mike McGavick is a wealthy businessman who can fund most of his campaign, butpartyfaithfulalsoarebankingon strong grass-roots support. Many state Republicans are still angry about the 2004 gubernatorial race, which their candidate, Dino Rossi, lost byfewerthan200votesaftertwo 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,NewYorkRepublicanand chairmanoftheNationalRepublican Congressional Committee. “That gives us some added bonus.”
Mr. Reynolds said he has seen intensevoterinterestinMissCantwell’s seat and some House seats.
Miss Cantwell, 47, leads Mr. McGavick in all statewide polls, but by no more than five percentage points andwithmanyvoters still undecided.
FormerPresident Bill Clintonhas appealedonbehalfoftheincumbent.
“We are so close to recapturing control of both houses of Congress and Washington state is now in play fortheRepublicans,”Mr.Clintonsays on Miss Cantwell’s campaign Web site. “YoumorethanmostAmericans know that every single vote counts. One vote canchange the direction of our entire country.”
Miss Cantwell received 49 percent of the vote in 2000andunseated the Republican incumbent, Sen. Slade Gorton, by fewer than 2,300 votes.
SenateMajorityLeader Bill Frist of Tennessee campaigned against the Democrat during a visit to Washington on Aug. 14.
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, butthesenator joined other Democrats to defeat the bill, calling it “bad for Washington workers” because it wouldhave cut wages for tip earners.
Last month, one of her most vocal criticsfromthe left agreedtojoinher campaign. Democrat Mark Wilson, whohadrunaprimarychallengefor morethanayear,washiredasanoutreach 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.
MissCantwellvotedinfavorofthe Iraq war in October 2002, but recentlysupportedaDemocraticeffort to initiate a “phased redeployment” of troops from Iraq by Dec. 31.
Her challenger in the Democraticprimary is war critic Hong Tran, anonprofitlawyerwho fled Vietnam asa child. MissCantwell 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.