The contest for the Senate in Washington has gone through three distinct phases so far. The key question political Washingtonians must now ask themselves is this: Will there be a fourth?
Maria Cantwell, the Democratic incumbent, has to hope so. And there are some indications it could be happening. But the jury's out, and at the moment the Evergreen State's junior Senate seat hangs gently in the balance.
A year ago, pre-McGavick, there was some sense that things might not go smoothly for Cantwell. While it was true that her Democratic colleague Patty Murray had just decisively beat back a strong Republican challenger, Cantwell's polling numbers had consistently trailed Murray's. While she was able in 2000 to self-fund her campaign, she'd have to raise her own money this time after the dot-com bubble burst carried away much of her stash. A lot of Washingtonians had at that point sympathy for Republicans who had so closely lost the race for governor. And so on.
But - and here the second phase set in - conditions turned. After early prospects bailed, Republicans actually collected a candidate in McGavick, but McGavick seemed unable to pick up significant personal traction, and his fundraising was weak, a big surprise given his background as a corporate CEO. At the same time, Cantwell turned into a fundraising machine, drastically outraising him (and the most current reports still say she has outraised McGavick by a factor of three to four). President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress tanked in the polls nationally and even worse in Washington. Cantwell made headlines with a string of wins popular back home, on subjects including Enron corruption and oil tanker protection. She was on a roll.
Then - phase three - the roll seemed to slow, and stop. (more…)