My what a difference a year makes. It wasn’t so long ago that the national GOP had targeted Sen. Maria Cantwell as the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in 2006, while WA state Republicans were drooling over what they saw as the inevitable backlash over the 2004 gubernatorial election contest. Now, less than a year before the election, things don’t look so hot for them.
Last week I reported that both Rasmussen and GOP pollster Strategic Vision show Cantwell at the magic 50% or better against anointed challenger Mike McGavick… and now the new SurveyUSA poll is the latest to show Cantwell’s approval ratings tracking up, 55% to 34%, her net approval rising 9 points since last month’s survey. Far from being vulnerable, Cantwell now ranks right in the middle of the 100 senator pack, and most impressively, she now enjoys positive net approval across nearly every demographic group in the state.
What explains her sudden popularity? Well, she’s finally getting a little press around here, but my guess is that voters are beginning to pay a little more attention now that the 2005 election is over and McGavick is making a little more news. Absent an opponent, approval ratings can be a little nebulous, but voters, particularly Democrats and independents, are beginning to view Cantwell in the context of a head-to-head with McGavick. Indeed, Cantwell’s biggest jump was with voters who identify themselves as liberals. There may still be some resentment in this group over a handful of Cantwell’s votes, but they’re realists; no self-respecting liberal is going to hand this seat over to an insurance industry lackey like McGavick.
There was a time when state R’s expected the national party to pour lavish sums into this race, but it’s beginning to look like that money would be better spent defending Representatives Dave Reichert and Cathy McMorris. (And who knows… maybe even “Doc” Hastings.)