| In his first bid for
elected office, millionaire Mike McGavick will face off with Democratic
incumbent Maria Cantwell. Cantwell, a first-term senator who defeated
Republican Slade Gorton in 2000, narrowly won the seat by 2,200
votes out of nearly 2.2 million cast.
A Seattle native, McGavick left his post as chief executive of
the Washington-based insurance company Safeco in July 2005, declaring
his interest in the race and forming an exploratory committee
days after his resignation.
national Republican Party quickly embraced his bid. He gained
early support from Republican National Committee Chairman Ken
Mehlman and Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C. That created a perception
that "the White House helped clear the field" in the
race, according to University of Washington political scientist
David Olsen, as quoted in the Bellingham Herald.
And a parade of nationally prominent Republicans has traveled
to the Pacific Northwest in support of McGavick's candidacy.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., rallied for McGavick in Seattle in
March, calling him "a person who exhibits the kind of skills
and leadership that we need in the United States Senate."
First lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Senate Majority
Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and former New Jersey Gov. Christine
Todd Whitman also have visited the state in a show of support.
Although McGavick has never held elected office before, he is
by no means a political neophyte. His father, Joe McGavick, also
a Republican, served as a Washington state representative from
1966 until 1968. Former Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., has been a
family friend since McGavick's childhood, and after Gorton was
elected for his first Senate term in 1981, McGavick worked in
his office as an aide on foreign policy and military affairs.
Gorton lost his seat in 1986 but was elected again in 1988 with
McGavick as his campaign manager. McGavick served as Gorton's
chief of staff from 1989 to 1990. And it was Gorton whom Cantwell
defeated in the 2000 election.
McGavick's lack of a voting record gives him a certain freedom
in his bid for Cantwell's seat, though he faces the challenges
of building visibility and reputation. His reported worth of $36
to $65 million should help him overcome those hurdles. In late
August, he made his first contribution of $2 million to his campaign.
Thus far, McGavick has sought to portray himself as a moderate
Republican, citing former President Reagan as his political role
model. He differs from Cantwell on issues including Social Security,
the environment and tax policy.
On Social Security, McGavick supports voluntary personal accounts
for younger workers -- in contrast to Cantwell's point-blank rejection
of privatization -- and favors a voluntary program whereby prosperous
Americans could return their benefit checks as a donation to the
well-being of the program.
He advocates drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
in Alaska in order to boost energy independence and ease gasoline
costs to consumers, while Cantwell has been one of the proposal's
most active detractors.
McGavick has criticized Cantwell for her opposition to the so-called
trifecta bill, which coupled the repeal of the estate tax on all
but the largest estates with a provision to increase the minimum
wage. McGavick says he would have supported the legislation, which
was defeated in early August. As further evidence of his no-new-taxes
stance, he has signed a pledge with Americans for Tax Reform that
certifies he will never vote for any tax increase.
Immigration shapes up as an important talking point in this race
as well because Washington is a border state with an economy that
depends heavily on agriculture. In a campaign press release, McGavick
outlines his stance: "Increased border security and a flexible
guest worker program can go hand in hand. Enforcement by itself
is not a complete answer."
As a Republican running in a blue state, McGavick's campaign
has avoided taking hard-line positions on lightening rod issues
like abortion and gay marriage. A Roman Catholic who opposes abortion
as a matter of personal opinion, McGavick says he doesn't believe
that a change in federal law is appropriate at this time. While
he supports the definition of marriage as an institution between
one man and one woman, he stresses the importance of securing
equitable benefits laws for "nontraditional" partners
and their children.
Such non-incendiary positions are in keeping with the professed
central tenet of McGavick's campaign, and the image he seeks to
present to Washington voters: civility.