by Ted S. McGregor & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ast month, a story in the Washington Post caused a bit of a stir on Capitol Hill and may have been a bellwether for the political times to come. In it, Dana Milbank interviewed a mystery candidate. Only identified as a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in a blue state, where President George W. Bush's approval is low, the candidate proceeded to let his party have it with both barrels.
"We've lost our way," he was quoted as saying of Republicans in general. "You don't go to Congress to become the party that you've been fighting for 40 years."
He called Katrina "a monumental failure of government." Iraq, he said, "didn't work" because "we didn't prepare for the peace." And on being a Republican in 2006: "I've got an 'R' here, a scarlet letter ... If this race is about Republicans and Democrats, I lose."
I don't know who this guy is, but once he steps up and puts his name with those comments, it will become clear that he's more interested in becoming a Senator than he is in making friends with the Bush/Cheney crowd. This guy wants to be part of the future of the GOP, not the past.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & f course I couldn't help but wonder if the Post's mystery candidate was Mike McGavick, the Republican who is taking on incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell this year. A former chief of staff to Slade Gorton and former Safeco CEO, McGavick is a nice, moderate guy. His big mantra is to change the tone over in the other Washington. Democrats say that's just the same sheep's clothing Dino Rossi and George W. Bush wore to perfection in past elections. Democrats will hate to hear it, but McGavick is, truly, a guy you'd love to go have a beer with.
Cantwell, meanwhile, has failed to inspire during her first six years. She's a solid Senator, having done really great work on energy issues, but she often seems lost in the forest of policy details. Then there's the war in Iraq, which gets more unpopular by the day. As a kind of Lieberman-lite, Cantwell supported the invasion and hasn't, like many of her colleagues, changed her position. Maybe that's a virtue, but Joe Lieberman's recent demise seems to beg the question.
Still, as a supporter of the war himself, McGavick has neutralized the issue. Out on the campaign trail, he only has to say "That's one area that the Senator and I agree upon." As a result, Maria will not be able to force McGavick to defend the most failed policy of his political patrons.
Nonetheless, this race is Cantwell's to lose. Part of it is the power of incumbency, part of it is Seattle and King County's continued transition to becoming a more Democrat-dominated part of the country, but a lot of it has to do with McGavick. His campaign, so far, is the equivalent of him taking a turn at banging his head against the same brick wall George Nethercutt ran into in 2004, when he lost to Patty Murray.
Nethercutt (who also talked about changing the tone in Washington) was hand-picked by the White House to run, and those strings -- along with his Eastern Washington heritage -- doomed him. Now McGavick is up, and even though he's running his campaign out of Seattle -- a very un-Republican thing to do -- he is doing little to disown those strings. Washington has become a hard place for statewide Republican candidates; just using the same playbook over and over isn't cutting it.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hy do I care? Like a lot of people, I want to see Democrats in charge, to put some checks and balances back into the system. So shouldn't I be glad McGavick seems stuck in second place? Here's why I care: We need two strong parties for our nation to function properly. Today, both parties have serious problems, with the result being an out-of-control executive branch. We need independent thinkers representing us -- people who take their marching orders from Washington state citizens, not some party bigshot back East. We need people to be intellectually honest and true to their beliefs. But one thing we really need is to find a way out of Iraq, and it's going to take a few brave Republicans to make it happen.
Just as it was during Vietnam, Democrats and protesters will not end this war. Vietnam persisted until members of Richard Nixon's own party started calling for it to end. These were the people the warmongers could not label as wimpy appeasers. An anti-war movement within the GOP is the likeliest scenario to chart a course to leaving Iraq.
This is where a Mike McGavick potentially comes in. A reasonable anti-war position would, I think, win him the election. Obviously, there are a couple problems. First, perhaps McGavick believes deeply that staying the course (with whatever tweaks the administration has to offer this week) is the right thing to do. I can respect that, but I find it hard to believe -- almost no one who knows anything about geo-politics thinks the Iraq policy is working. Only Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have yet to admit failure. Which leads us to the second problem: Perhaps McGavick just can't bring himself (or maybe he just can't afford) to break with the president.
But imagine an anti-war McGavick -- a terrifying possibility for Cantwell, who would have to defend the war while McGavick could play a more reasoned, middle-of-the-road Ned Lamont. He would also prove to Washington voters, quite vividly, his independence from the White House political machine. And he would put himself in the vanguard of Republicans who will chart a course to a more effective and responsible GOP.
I know this is all a daydream; McGavick has donated money to Lieberman's run as an independent, and let's not forget that fundraiser in Spokane with Dick Cheney. No, McGavick wasn't that mystery candidate interviewed by the Post. That guy wants to be a Senator.
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