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McGavick Gets a Favor

Last November Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) authored a bill designed to increase the number of oil tankers allowed to operate in Puget Sound. It's a relatively big issue among the environmentally-conscious folks in Western Washington, and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) had been playing the David to Stevens' Goliath, vowing to filibuster the legislation.

The week before last, Senator Stevens withdrew the bill from consideration, a move explicitly designed to boost the candidacy of Ms. Cantwell's challenger this fall, Republican Mike McGavick:

"I have never in my 38 years in the Senate asked to have any bill I introduced be permanently postponed, but that is my intention now," Stevens said from the Senate floor.

"One letter from a Washingtonian convinced me," he added.

At a press conference later, he identified the letter writer as McGavick. "Mike McGavick came to me and said it ought to be discussed," Stevens said.

Stevens' speech played into McGavick's own announcement about the bill a couple of hours later.

"I'm pretty proud of the role I played in this," McGavick said. "If I can do this as a candidate, imagine what I can do as a senator."

It's a nifty move of political teamwork by the GOP, but the way things are shaping up Mr. McGavick might need a few more favors before November rolls around.

Ms. Cantwell has been high on the GOP's target list since the day she shocked Slade Gorton by 2,229 votes in 2000. After former GOP Gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi passed on a Senate bid in late April of last year, Republicans thought they had found their man in Mr. McGavick, now former CEO of Safeco Insurance and the former Chief of Staff to the aforementioned Senator Gorton. McGavick is young (48), smart, articulate, moderate, and has deep roots in the business community as well as the ability to self-finance.

But the political landscape in Washington, as in the country at large, has become increasing difficult for Republicans in the last few months. Dissatisfaction with President Bush, a Congress run by Republicans, the war in Iraq, etc. are all a drag for Mr. McGavick on top of the already formidable task of being an unknown, first-time candidate trying to unseat an incumbent Democrat in a blue state.

And yet Ms. Cantwell continues to show signs of weakness. A Strategic Vision survey taken in early December had her polling at 50% (Mr.McGavick was at 39%) with a job approval rating of 49%. A more recent poll by Rasmussen Reports taken at the end of January also had Ms. Cantwell right at the 50% mark (Mr.McGavick was at 36%). Normally, you'd expect an incumbent with such favorable political dynamics running against a virtual unknown to be doing better. If Mr. McGavick runs a sharp campaign and picks up another favor or two along the way - especially if they come in the form of missteps by Ms. Cantwell - this could turn into a very interesting contest.