Democrat Fights to Hold on to Washington Senate Seat

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Renee Montagne talks with David Postman, chief political reporter for The Seattle Times. They discuss the U.S. Senate race in Washington state between Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell and Mike McGavick, who is expected to be the Republican challenger after next month's primary.


Joining us now to talk about the Senate race in Washington state, where Maria Cantwell is considered the country's most vulnerable Democratic incumbent, is David Postman. He is the chief political reporter for The Seattle Times. Good morning.

Mr. DAVID POSTMAN (Reporter, The Seattle Times): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Maria Cantwell. Why is she, as it were, so endangered?

Mr. POSTMAN: Some of this goes back six years to when she first got elected. She won by 2,200 votes. And I think when you come into office, even by knocking out an incumbent by such a slim margin, people were waiting to see how she would build on that, and you start in the hole that way.

MONTAGNE: And she hasn't built a huge following?

Mr. POSTMAN: Well, some of that only came to the surface once this campaign started and we saw the force of the anti-war voice in the state. And she had more problems with party regulars than was really evident up until recently.

MONTAGNE: Mike McGavick is expected to be the Republican challenger. Tell us a little bit about him.

Mr. POSTMAN: He is the former CEO of Safeco, the insurance company. He used to work for Slade Gorton, the man Cantwell beat. He was both a chief of staff and a campaign manager, so he has a lot of political experience as well as this business experience. Early on, he started talking about the need to restore civility to Washington, D.C. And that's the campaign theme. Over and above everything else, that's what he likes to talk about most.

MONTAGNE: Now, Senator Cantwell has received a lot of criticism from her own party, the Democratic Party, for her position and support of the war in Iraq.

Recently she's changed her stance, become more of a vocal critic. Is that helping?

Mr. POSTMAN: Well, yeah. And she's really only changed it just slightly at best. She hired the main primary opponent she had, a man named Mark Wilson who had been running an anti-war campaign against her in the primary for over a year. And she brought him in the tent and hired him for $8,000 a month as an outreach director and that seemed to go a long way to satisfy some of those critics.

She has voted for the Levin amendment in the Senate to have a troop withdrawal begin by the end of the year but with no certain date. That, again, satisfied some.

And then just last week she said that if she knew then what she knows now, she would not have voted for the initial war resolution. And some of her most prominent critics in the left wing of the party said they were really glad to hear her say that. That was one of the things they wanted.

The other thing they've wanted to hear is to hear her actually say I regret that vote and she has not gone anywhere near that.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. POSTMAN: Oh, you bet. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: David Postman is the chief political reporter for The Seattle Times in Washington state.

INSKEEP: And that's a look at two of the tough races that could decide control of the United States Senate this fall.

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