Politics Pundits Pile on Cantwell
Earlier today, The National Journal, an even-keeled, impartial, elite(ist) DC analysis magazine, weighed in on Maria Cantwell’s reelection campaign. Here was their money quote (at least for the GOP): “We can’t imagine ever viewing any other Democratic incumbent as more vulnerable than Cantwell.”
Now, the equally well-respected Cook Political Report delivers some more bracing analysis for incumbent Cantwell.
Here’s how their write-up begins:
Washington: On many levels, freshman Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell may be the party’s most vulnerable incumbent. Cantwell has not established herself in the minds of voters, her poll numbers tend to be weaker than those of her colleague Sen. Patty Murray, she does not have a long record of accomplishment, and she can’t finance her campaign as she did in 2000 when she defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Slade Gorton. As important, Cantwell will face a very strong opponent in former Safeco CEO Mike McGavick.
I’ve pasted in the rest of the Cook Report write-up below.
Of course, Cantwell has a few things working in her favor. If she can't self-fund the race, she has proven to be a tireless fundraiser. At the end of the first quarter, she had $5.6 million in the bank. Perhaps her greatest asset in the general election is the state's solid blue nature. It is just not easy for a Republican to win statewide here. And, although Cantwell's record of accomplishment is slim, she has won much praise for her efforts to kill attempts by Senate Republicans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Cantwell cast a vote in support of the war in Iraq and she hasn't backed off her position. She did support the Levin-Reed Amendment to establish a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq. Her position on the war has earned her two primary opponents. Neither has any chance of defeating her, but they provide an outlet for anti-war Democrats to vent their anger. Some observers have speculated that Cantwell's views on the war might discourage Democrats from turning out in the general election, and this might cost her the race if it is close. That assessment is not unrealistic, just premature and may or may not be operative by October.
McGavick is probably the strongest candidate that Republicans could have recruited for this race. He carries none of the baggage that some other statewide Republicans have had. He is from Seattle, as opposed to the more Republican area of Spokane, which many voters consider akin to being from another state entirely. He has been able to raise money, and is in a position to put his own into the race. It will be difficult to paint him as a rigid social conservative or to tie him to President Bush. As a former Senate chief of staff, McGavick, unlike many candidates who come from the business community, does not have to conquer a learning curve on federal issues. And, finally, he has a unified Republican Party behind him, which is often not the case in a state where there is a schism between moderates and conservatives. Some of the unity can be attributed to the 2004 gubernatorial race that GOP nominee Dino Rossi lost by a handful of votes amid serious voting irregularities in King County (Seattle). They feel robbed and are energized about this election.
This is not to suggest that McGavick is without his vulnerabilities. First among them is probably his tenure at Safeco. Although he was able to turn around a troubled company, it came at a cost, job cuts. Democrats are certain to hammer this issue. McGavick anticipates such attacks and has worked to inoculate himself, devoting a section of his web site to the "Safeco Story" and he will inevitably put his side of the story in television ads. Another issue will be McGavick's support for drilling in ANWR. If nothing else, it might cost him some independent and moderate voters and certainly does not win him any friends in the state's press corps.
McGavick has taken an interesting approach in the campaign: he has said he will criticize Cantwell's positions on issues, highlighting areas in which they disagree, but that he will not engage in personal attacks because he believes that civility needs to return to politics. Democrats are unlikely to take the same attitude toward attacks and it will be interesting to see how this cuts if McGavick does not respond in kind.
There are only two pollsters who release data here. The GOP firm Strategic Vision, who is not polling for McGavick, had McGavick trailing Cantwell by just 7 points in their last survey. Elway Research showed a 19-point gap in an April poll. So who do we believe? Neither makes us particularly comfortable and even employing the patented Cook Political Report Law of Polling Averages does not really work here. In short, we'd like to see data from one or two more credible polling firms.
Even without enough polling data, if there is any race in the Lean Democratic column that seems destined for Toss Up, it is this one.