Former Safeco Exec Defeated in Election

November 9, 2006

Although she didn’t campaign as an anti-war candidate, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell won over the vast majority of Washington voters most unhappy with the war in Iraq and displeased with President Bush’s job performance.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they disapprove of both the war and the way the president has handled is job, and both groups heavily favored the incumbent over her Republican challenger, Mike McGavick.

Late in his campaign, McGavick, former chief executive of Safeco Insurance Corp., accused the president of failing to grasp voter frustrations about the war, said he would’ve voted against the war if he’d known there were no weapons of mass destruction and urged Bush to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Yet McGavick won over voters who strongly support both the war and President Bush, according to a poll of 901 vote-by-mail voters interviewed by telephone in the past week for AP and television networks by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, higher for subgroups.

Early in her re-election campaign, Cantwell was pestered by anti-war protesters from the left flank of her party still angry over her 2002 vote authorizing the war. Cantwell started criticizing the war effort earlier this year, as anti-war Democrats protested at campaign events.

Over time, party leaders calmed down the anti-war critics. She got two of her staunchest anti-war critics to abandon their Senate campaigns and join her team, and won the Democratic primary handily, capturing 91 percent of the vote.

About half of voters polled said they strongly disapprove of the war, and they backed Cantwell nine-to-one over McGavick.

Libertarian Bruce Guthrie and Green Party candidate Aaron Dixon both oppose the war and have called for the immediate withdrawal of troops. Yet neither candidate appeared to steal many votes from Cantwell.

About half of voters said they favor withdrawing some or all troops from Iraq, and of those about eight in 10 backed Cantwell, apparently overlooking her vote against a set timetable to bring troops home.

“I would say it’s time to figure out how to get out of there, but we need to leave them with a strong government,” electrician Pat Ivers, 49, said after casting his ballot in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. “I’m kind of a reality person. It’s happened – now, how the heck do we get out of there?”

Voters were fairly evenly split on whether they feel safer or more vulnerable to terrorism than they before Sept. 11. About two-thirds of those who feel safer favored McGavick, while those who feel less safe backed Cantwell nine-to-one. And those who ranked terrorism as an extremely important issue for them appeared to split evenly between Cantwell and McGavick.

About one-third of people polled said their opposition to Bush influenced their vote for Washington senator, and of those nine in 10 favored Cantwell.

“As much as I’d like to think this wasn’t a referendum on Bush, it was,” said Matthew Norton, 42, a doctor and Army veteran from suburban Bellevue who voted for Cantwell. “The last thing going through your mind as you cast the ballot is, ‘Do I want to give Bush one more vote in the House or the Senate?'”

Vince Wagner, a private school football coach from University Place in Pierce County, said he voted for McGavick because he wants to keep Republicans in power. ‘”Democrats: soft on terror. Republicans: hard on terror. That’s my feeling, if you want me to be frank,” said Wagner, 47.

Cantwell appeared to sweep virtually all age groups, income and education levels, and won over cities, suburbs and rural areas. She won most of Western Washington, while McGavick had his best showing in Eastern Washington, where voters traditionally favor Republicans.

Cantwell got her strongest support from King County, where liberals in Seattle outnumber the more politically diverse white- and blue-collar suburbs east and south of the city.

By wide but slimmer margins than in King County, she won over voters ringing King County from Everett to Tacoma, and the rest of Western Washington. Eastern Washington, which tends to back conservative candidates, gave McGavick his strongest showing in any region, though slightly more appeared to vote for Cantwell.

Voters who identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans split predictably along party lines, as did those who said they consider themselves liberal or conservative on most political matters.

About four in 10 voters identified themselves as moderates, and they supported Cantwell about seven-to-three over McGavick. Cantwell also won among those who identified themselves as independent or loyal to a third party, but by a narrower margin.

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