McGavick Not Consensus Senate Choice

Posted September 28, 2005 at 6:48pm

When Safeco CEO Mike McGavick signaled he was preparing to challenge Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) next year, Republican leaders exhaled in relief.

But since he formed his exploratory committee in July, McGavick has been unable to cut his ties to the insurance company and campaign full time — potentially emboldening would-be primary competitors.

Diane Tebelius, the state’s Republican National committeewoman, is seriously contemplating a bid while Susan Hutchison, a former Seattle television newswoman, is at least considering the race.

Party leaders want the base to agree on one candidate early but the absence of a formal announcement by McGavick is making that harder, according to one party insider, who did not want to be named.

McGavick was expected to officially enter the race Friday but that has been pushed back indefinitely.

He was also supposed to be relieved of most of his corporate duties by Aug. 31 but Safeco has yet to find a suitable successor.

As to when McGavick will launch his campaign, his spokesman Afton Swift said: “I think it will be very soon.”

In this vacuum, Tebelius, also not an official candidate, has been able to circulate at party events, and, if not outright win endorsements, at least keep some activists from committing early to McGavick, Swift acknowledged.

McGavick has been making the rounds and racked up some big-name endorsements but “there are people who have pre-existing relationships and are hesitant to get on board” as a result, Swift said.

Tebelius said she hopes to make a decision soon and that it is not contingent on McGavick. “I can’t make my decision based on him,” she said.

Despite the wishes of national Republican leaders, some state party leaders seem to welcome a Senate primary.

Last weekend, the Washington GOP’s executive committee voted to repeal the so-called 11th commandment established by the late President Ronald Reagan — thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.

GOP Chairman Chris Vance tapped Tebelius to head up a committee to study whether the party rules should be altered.

For almost 20 years, Washington Republicans seeking help from the state party had to sign an agreement saying they would not attack their primary foes.

Tebelius’ committee recommended that the rule be tossed — and it was.

Swift said no one should read too much into that decision.

“I’m not sure the repeal of the 11th commandment had anything to do with this race,” he said. “I think there were some hard feelings about races in the past; the problem had been brewing for some time.”

Vance confirmed that the disagreement stemmed from last year’s primaries when a GOP Senate candidate was barred from addressing the state party because he refused to sign the non-aggression pact. Furthermore, the rule was broken during the crowded primary in the 8th district last year, but the executive committee declined to fine anyone, he said.

Tebelius sought the GOP nod for the open 8th district House seat but lost.

The study committee met for about six months before making its recommendation, Vance said.

Democrats seized on the development as a sign that the state GOP is in disarray.

“The Republicans claim to be the party that speaks with a unified voice and vision, but this shows how untrue that is,” said Paul Berendt, chairman of the Washington Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, some grass-roots folks have complained that McGavick has not sought their backing. Others gripe he has not been visible enough while still others question his conservative credentials, the insider revealed.

“We’ve been able to do a remarkable amount of good quality campaign work when you consider he’s been both exploring a run and a CEO,” Swift said in response. “All quarters seem happy; the reaction has almost been completely positive. There have been no negative reactions to Mike.”

Other party insiders say there is no serious opposition to McGavick’s candidacy while Vance said McGavick is doing a good job of shoring up the base.

“If Mike McGavick wants our endorsement he has to go out there and convince the grassroots to endorse him and he’s out there, he’s doing that,” Vance said.

Swift added that McGavick’s fundraising has been in full swing as well.

“I think people will be very happy with the number that we will put up” this quarter, which closes Friday, he said.

Those who think McGavick has not been making the circuit might point to a canceled event as proof. McGavick was scheduled to speak at the Thurston County Mainstream Republicans luncheon in Olympia on Thursday but had to bail because of a scheduling conflict.

That was an anomaly, Swift said. “I think we’ve canceled one” event. “No matter how much you do, some people will say things like that,” Swift said. “Mike’s been all over the state, there hasn’t been a population center he’s missed.”

As for Hutchison, she recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to test the waters and met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s political director, but she also has yet to take the plunge.

Vance stressed the need for party unity.

“We need to coalesce behind one candidate but I can’t choose that candidate on my own,” he said. “McGavick is the only one out there campaigning. I hope sooner rather than later that the grassroots of the party will come to a consensus and endorse one candidate.”

And in case anyone wondered where the NRSC stands, Brian Nick, the committee spokesman had this to say: “Mike McGavick is putting together a great campaign and he’s obviously going to be a wonderful U.S. Senator some day.”