The most telling evidence, though, is that Cantwell and McGavick have the proper identifying letters after their names: Cantwell (D) and McGavick (R). Candidates with G (Green), L (Libertarian) and I (Independent) after their names aren't yet commonly accepted in U.S. politics. They're even seen as impediments, as in 2000, when Democrats blamed Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader for Al Gore's loss.
Cantwell and McGavick have already had the usual debate about debates, with the challenger demanding nine face-to-face opportunities (one for each of Washington's congressional districts) to "outline clear issue differences" with his opponent (and to give her the maximum number of chances to make a campaign-changing gaffe), and the incumbent setting the terms: one 60-minute debate in Seattle and one 30-minute appearance in Spokane. The Libertarian candidate, Bruce Guthrie, is trying to force his way into the Seattle debate, according to the Seattle Times, by loaning his campaign more than a million dollars to prove he is a "serious" challenger. The other two candidates, independent Robin Adair and Aaron Dixon from the Green Party, aren't even on the debate radar screen.
Robin Adair, Independent
At a time when political consultants urge their clients to simplify the messages they send to voters, Robin Adair has gone the opposite direction. On her website, she mixes her basic campaign themes ("recover the middle class," "return America to prosperity") with an economic dissertation. She writes about the dangers of the U.S. "sub-economy" (with references to those economic fossils Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes). As I read her manifesto, I imagine Adair standing at a blackboard, totally absorbed, chalk flying, scribbling her thoughts, drawing arrows to connect ideas.
The Seattle resident, a Claremont College graduate in political philosophy and economy, believes the country is moving away from a "classic" economy, "where money moves from hand to hand and supports people and businesses." Instead, she says, huge chunks of cash are moving one way, out of the country ("the sub-economy") -- to Iraq, to China and India and to the other nations where U.S. companies have moved their operations.
She's angry about the passage of the Medicare prescription drug law, which she claims is eliminating competition in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. "When I was in school in the '60s, monopolies were something we studied about in the robber baron era," Adair said. "But in the past 15 years, we've had the growth of a huge number of monopolies, and that can only happen if the government permits it."
Eventually, she believes, the U.S. economy will collapse as it did in 1929. "Money in the economy is like blood in the body. The day that there isn't enough, it (the economy) implodes." Adair believes the country can no longer afford to keep its troops in Iraq. "It [the war] has put us in debt and will take generations for us to pay off."
She says as a U.S. Senator she could help to right the economic ship. "The Senate is the single most important decision-making body in our government, with only 100 members," she said. "It is the place where I can best make economic reforms and try to restore a 'classic' economy." She proposes to reform Social Security, "to make it profitable in 17 years," and to create what she calls "a second insurance industry, to provide peoples' insurance: cheap, available, full coverage, no deductibles."
But first, Robin Adair must be elected, which, considering she started her campaign just after Labor Day and doesn't have a huge stash of cash upon which to draw, will be nearly impossible to achieve. There's also that little problem of trying to communicate her complicated ideas to a distracted public. During our first interview, after a 10-minute lecture that took me back to my college freshman-level economics class, she stopped to ask me how she was coming across. "Is there a way you could explain this in a way that doesn't make my eyes glaze over?" I replied.
A few weeks later, I interviewed Adair again and she seemed to have taken my question to heart. She dwelled less on the nuances of her economic theories, instead using Ross Perot's metaphor of the giant sucking sound to explain her "sub-economy" theory. Still, I came away feeling that if Adair's really serious about being elected, she should probably hire someone who knows something about communicating with voters.
Aaron Dixon, Green Party
Aaron Dixon was a reluctant candidate. "I was approached in December, I think it was, by the Green Party about running for the U.S. Senate," he said. "It was something I had never really thought about doing or really wanted to do."
But Dixon says the timing was good. He had recently visited Spain, Brazil and Venezuela and admires the leftward shift in many South American governments. They elected "people that weren't cut from the same political cloth, people who had been involved in activism. They're putting these progressive people in office and transforming their countries."
That appeals to Dixon, who spent 10 years in the Seattle Black Panther Party and who has worked throughout his career to help young, poor and homeless people. So he decided to run for the Senate and see if he could push the country in what he considers a more humanitarian direction. "We need to start by electing people who have a different type of thinking process."
The Dixon campaign slogan is "Out of wars, into our communities." If elected, he would push to remove U.S. troops from Iraq. "We're spending almost a trillion dollars on this war, while, in our own country, we have failing school systems. They're closing down schools in Seattle," he said. "If we had those resources here, we could deal with our problems." He blames the government for what he sees as an inadequate response to cleaning up New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. "We have many communities, mostly African-American and Latino communities, that have extreme poverty. And after the hurricane, we didn't even have the troops to help people who were left stranded and deserted."
Dixon also has harsh words for America's "war on drugs." "Our prison population has exploded to two million people," he said. "A lot of these people are drug addicts. They have a medical condition. They shouldn't be in prison. Our money could be spent much better by providing them with treatment."
Dixon doesn't have any illusions about winning the U.S. Senate race. His main role, he says, is to give voters another choice. "People are fed up with the two-party system. We have just been getting the same parade of cookie-cutter politicians who don't really seem to have much creativity when it comes to solving really very simple problems."
He wants to extend the influence of his and other "third parties," to create a democracy that represents a broader range of political opinions. He wants to help the Greens get its candidates elected at the local and state level. "They do have somewhat of an apparatus around the country." And he wants to put the Greens' issues back on the national agenda. "A lot of people like to think that we're focused on environmental issues and that's not true," he said. "We're also focused on social justice and racism."
Dixon has no patience for the argument that, since he's not going to win his race, there's no sense voting for him. "The real wasted vote is the one you cast for someone you don't believe in."
Bruce Guthrie, Libertarian Party
Who says "third party" candidates have to run low-budget campaigns?
Earlier this month, Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Guthrie announced he had loaned his campaign nearly $1.2 million. "I mortgaged my house, my only house, in Bellingham. And I put up all the savings that my former wife and I were able to save in our 17 years of marriage."
On Seattle-area political blogs, the move was greeted with derision. "What a moron," wrote one tactful blogger. "If he wants to help libertarians, why not fund some local races ... You almost feel bad for his family now that he has just squandered a lifetime of asset accumulation on a fool hearty [sic] run for senate."
No one knows whether Guthrie will actually spend the money, but he says he wanted to run a serious campaign (and get himself into a televised statewide debate with McGavick and Cantwell). "I realize if I didn't go in all the way, I would have regretted it later," he said. "My heart is really in this race and I decided it was just time to put my money where my heart is."
Guthrie ran (unsuccessfully) for Congress in 2002 and 2004 while teaching business management at Western Washington University. He recently resigned that job, married again (his first wife died of breast cancer last year) and says he's preparing to become a high school teacher.
Guthrie says it's time for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. "They're going to have a civil war there, and I just think it makes more sense for our troops to be elsewhere, where they're safer," he said. "The purpose of American troops should be to defend Americans. They should be stationed mostly on U.S. soil."
Guthrie does support the mission of troops who are fighting the Taliban and chasing Osama bin Laden, because "Osama bin Laden attacked us. Saddam Hussein did not," he said. "I think that's [Afghanistan] where we should have put our efforts, instead of diverting our resources to Iraq."
The war in Iraq brought dangerous attacks on Americans' civil liberties, Guthrie says. "We need to reform the USA Patriot Act so that it's consistent with the Constitution."
Guthrie argues that Americans have a right to medical freedom and vows to support federal initiatives that give patients more choices in treatments. He says his late wife's cancer battle opened his eyes. "When a dying patient wants to take an experimental medication, she should be able to." That includes marijuana, which Guthrie believes would have eased his wife's constant nausea: "She was a law-abiding, straight-laced type and was not willing to take marijuana, purely because it was illegal."
Guthrie isn't ready to legalize drug possession, but he does support decriminalization. "A person arrested for having drugs shouldn't be in prison," he said. "I think possessing marijuana yourself is a victimless crime -- it's a non-violent activity."
He believes in legal marriages for gay couples and he would allow gays to serve openly in the military.
Many of Guthrie's positions may actually have broad public support, but because of the L behind his name, he (and they) won't be taken seriously, even if he spends more than a million dollars on his campaign.
Doug Nadvornick is the news director for Spokane Public Radio.