Republican Mike McGavick has just released some new, independent poll numbers showing he is within striking distance of overtaking incumbent Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. With the November election approximately 135 days away as of this posting, for him to be this close to an incumbent senator in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, shows that Cantwell is in serious trouble. Or does it?
McGavick already has the Republicans galvanized. All he needs from them is their money. It goes without saying Republicans aren't going to cross over and vote for Cantwell. That gives McGavick lots of time to work on subverting unhappy conservative and moderate Democrats — some of who WILL crossover and vote for him.
How many, and why they've lost faith, are the critical questions Democrats refuse to acknowledge as an issue. That would mean addressing their concerns, and as long as the liberals run the party, that isn't going to happen. They continue to take the political middle for granted while they try and smooth the disaffected feathers of their various combative liberal factions.
They ignore the middle at their own peril. The liberal wing of the party fails to understand or believe that's how Dino Rossi was elected governor — twice. The same situation could repeat itself here — with a much different outcome.
Meanwhile, McGavick hasn't really taken any positions on anything controversial or of any real substance. His strategy is extremely smart. It's been to divide and conquer — appeal to those conservative and moderate Democrats disillusioned and disgusted with their own party at the local and state level as well as with the rabid and confrontational partisanship of ultra-liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.
Except for an occasional barb, he's not running all that hard against Cantwell directly, but more against Washington DC and its highly polarized partisanship. He alludes that Cantwell is part of the problem without saying it directly, and comes across as a voice of reason willing to reach out across that great divide.
The strategy has bolstered his poll numbers which he's spinning in a positive manner against Cantwell. This also strengthens the public perception of her vulnerability — and because perception equals reality — encourages supporters of Mark Wilson and the third-party fringe candidates, to work even harder against her.
McGavick's appealing to Democrats by finding common ground on things they and Republicans can easily agree on — such as the partisanship issue. He openly blames Republicans as well as Democrats for the problems, which has given him credibility with that particular group of Democrats.
He already has them interested and agreeing on small points. Next, he'll start to close them on slightly larger, but still basically non-controversial issues — like health care costs. He openly asks, who knows more about this particular topic than the CEO of a major insurance company? Once he has them agreeing again, the issues will get incrementally larger until he has either turned them off — and they go back to Cantwell — or subverted (closed) them. It's Salesmanship 101 — and McGavick is a Master Salesman.
Either way, he's successfully eating into Cantwell's base to some extent with this strategy. Cantwell will win her primary, but deplete reserves and burn political capital doing it. Positions and statements from Cantwell against her primary opposition, will also give McGavick additional ammunition for the general election if he needs it. With only about 75 days until the primary, running against Washington DC has worked very well so far, kept McGavick from having to stake out any controversial positions he can be attacked on, and kept Cantwell on the defensive. He'll keep that up just as long as it continues to work.
The election could easily come down to turnout. Consider the small margin by which Cantwell originally beat Slade Gorton. Opposition from minor party candidates, which will only siphon off votes from Cantwell in the general election, could become crucial. Couple these with the "spin" of Cantwell's primary positions, as well as her votes on the war and other issues. McGavick's successful campaign against Washington DC has kept him out of the direct line of fire, so he won't need to subvert an insurmountable number of disillusioned Democrats to win. And he doesn't even necessarily need them to vote for him, just anyone but Cantwell!
Every day McGavick foments discontent among the Democrats is another day closer to the election; another day he isn't taking a stand on anything on which he can be attacked; another day Cantwell is on the defensive; another day he has available to work on successfully subverting discontented moderate Democrats; and finally, another day he has to continue encouraging those third party fringe candidates and their supporters to pull votes away from Cantwell in the general.
You have to admire the simple beauty of McGavick's strategy — and it's clearly working.
Another issue to look for to be "spun" against her as Election Day looms, is Cantwell's ties to Hillary. While a fair number of liberal Democrats will argue that Hillary isn't a liability, she is undoubtedly the single most divisive politician in America today. She offers Republican strategists a huge target to shoot at, and an early opportunity to begin discrediting her for 2008. No matter how you personally feel, positive or negative towards her, there is almost no one in America who doesn't have an opinion about Hillary Clinton.
I don't know how much you actually know about McGavick, but being an active member of the political media I've had occasion to meet him several times. Just as Dino Rossi did, he took the time to call me personally and make an appointment to stop by my office for a couple of hours to talk. While there, like Rossi, he asked to meet my employees. He took the time to listen to each one of them personally, at some length, about their concerns. This far into it, we've still not even heard from Cantwell or her campaign.
As a Democrat, even knowing going in that if elected, McGavick is going to have to support President Bush and advocate for things you can't agree with, when you meet him, you like the guy. You realize immediately he's not anything like what you may have been led to believe. That's his ace in the hole — and where I believe Cantwell and the party have seriously underestimated him. He's very warm, immediately likable, and empathetic, yet smooth, polished, and extremely effective one-on-one, and in small group situations. Contrast this to Cantwell's cool, aloof, distant, and somewhat combative personality — and if you've ever met her personally, you understand exactly what I mean.
The last thing Cantwell should do is challenge McGavick to a debate. In his calm, reasonable manner, he will eat her alive — and you may still not know where he stands when it's over. All you'll know is that Cantwell lost.
The bottom line is this: Given the time until the election, McGavick's poll numbers, his ability to avoid being pinned down on the issues, his ability to raise serious money, and most of all, his reasonable, likable demeanor — especially when contrasted to Cantwell — if this guy can meet and talk to enough moderate and/or conservative Democrats, he can win.
I expect some highly partisan Democrats will vehemently disagree with this assessment, while the more pragmatic ones will understand that it is what it is — and their standard operating procedure of shooting the messenger isn't going to change that.