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October 31, 2006

McGavick's new Iraq ad

Posted by David Postman at 7:24 AM

Is Mike McGavick using his latest TV commercial to promote the Green and Libertarian Senate candidates as a way to pull anti-war votes away from Sen. Maria Cantwell?

I think the argument can be made.

Nominally the point of the commercial, according to a release from the McGavick campaign, is for McGavick to address "the need for decisiveness in Iraq and Sen. Cantwell's vague position."

But watch it, and try it at least once with no sound, and see if you think the ad could be driving anti-war voters from Cantwell to Libertarian Bruce Guthrie or Green Aaron Dixon.

In the commercial, campaign signs appear with the names of both third party candidates, their photos and party designations. A graphic says, "Guthrie, Dixon: Pullout Now."

McGavick says in the ad: "On Iraq , Bruce Guthrie and Aaron Dixon have the guts to say what they think. They say, let's get the troops out now."

Then a sign with Cantwell's photo appears, labeled "incumbent." There's no party designation for her. The graphic reads:

Cantwell: FOR THE WAR


McGavick says: "But Maria Cantwell? It's just politics. First she voted for the war and to stay the course for three years."

There is a graphic that says: "Cantwell: Now Vague," while McGavick says:

"And, now suddenly, she's become vague?

"And, President Bush doesn't understand our frustrations.

"It's time to be decisive. Beat the terrorists. Partition the country if we have to and get our troops home in victory."

Other than the line "beat the terrorists," it could be an anti-war ad. It sounds a little critical of Bush. It gives Dixon his only face time in a paid TV spot. It prominently features the fact that Dixon and Guthrie oppose the war, and have the "guts" to say so. And turning around the sound-bite criticism Democrats usually leveled at Republicans, McGavick tags Cantwell with supporting a strategy of "staying the course."

I don't know what Cantwell or her campaign thinks about the new McGavick ad because they did not answer my questions. Cantwell, her staff said, was unavailable for an interview and there has not been a response to questions I posed yesterday evening.

The timing of the McGavick ad is curious. It appears at a time when the war is becoming more unpopular and when "Republican candidates are barely mentioning Iraq on the campaign trail and in their television advertisements."

I asked McGavick spokesman Elliott Bundy if the campaign was trying to send anti-war voters from Cantwell to Guthrie or Dixon. He said:

"We're simply making the point that of the major candidates in this race, the only one with a position that is vague is the incumbent."

I talked to McGavick about the ad yesterday. I hadn't at that point thought it was a way to exploit liberals' unease with Cantwell's support for the Iraq invasion. But it still seemed an odd ad because for some time McGavick said that he and Cantwell shared nearly identical positions on the war.

McGavick said that may have been the case, but that Cantwell has become more vague. But the first thing he said made her sound like a supporter of a quick troop withdrawal, which of course is not the sense you get from his commercial.

McGavick said Cantwell's vote in June for a Senate resolution calling for withdrawal of troops "was the first sign that the senator was more interested in establishing that she wanted troops home rather than victory."

That's not what he said in August. At a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, McGavick went out of his way to say he disagreed with GOP leadership that the vote on a resolution by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin was infused with meaning.

He said then:

"It struck me as one of these partisan squabbles without much meaning because in the end, the Levin amendment doesn't cause anything to happen. It just expresses what I think is the heartfelt feeling of everyone that we'd like our troops home sooner rather than later.


"I know the Republicans thought they had to make a case for supporting the president and the Democrats to show distance, but when I look at the content of the resolution I just think it was another chance to throw bricks at each other as far as I was concerned."

Other evidence McGavick offered yesterday to show a creeping vagueness in Cantwell's positions is her call for greater international support for a plan for the future of Iraq, including participation of the Arab League, which he called "completely unrealistic." But Cantwell's been saying that since May.

Another issue raised by McGavick yesterday as evidence of a muddled position is a statement from Cantwell staffer Michael Meehan in July that she supported bringing troops home by the end of the year and that "30,000 is not enough."
But not only was McGavick still saying he and Cantwell essentially shared the same Iraq position at that point, Cantwell first used the 30,000 figure herself in April.

You can read the McGavick campaign's "fact check" with backup on its claims here.

The one change of any substance has been Cantwell's statement in August that she would not have voted for the war if she had known that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. She made that statement to The Seattle Times only after being told that McGavick had said he "would have opposed the invasion had he known what he knows today."

Her change was welcomed by anti-war Democrats.

There's not much evidence that Cantwell has made any big changes in her Iraq position. If it's been vague, it has been all year long, even when McGavick was saying they largely shared the same position. I didn't see a change when some on the left were grasping for a sign Cantwell was leaning more their way, and I don't see it now.

UPDATE: Cantwell spokesman Katharine Lister says by e-mail:

For well over a year Senator Cantwell's position has consistently been to change the course in Iraq and hold the president accountable. She voted in November 2005 for the president to make 2006 a year of transition to begin bringing our troops home and again in June 2006, she voted for the Reed-Levin plan to demand a plan from the president to implement a plan to begin to bring our troops home this year. In July 2006, the Senate passed her amendment for no permanent bases in Iraq, which our opponent still opposes.

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