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For congressional hopefuls such as Washington state’s Mike McGavick, trying to raise money as a Republican in a liberal-leaning state can be a daunting task. And with GOP scandals that have left even long-term conservative lawmakers scrambling to secure their seats, the odds are seemingly against the 48-year-old former insurance executive, who is running against one-term Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell. But McGavick has friends. Friends who have helped him overcome one major hurdle�money�by tapping Capitol Hill lobbyists to pad his campaign coffers. Today, to make it to Washington, D.C., a candidate needs to have a relationship with the city before he ever gets here. Success means plugging into the town’s elaborate network of fund-raisers. For lobbyists it’s a way of getting in on the ground floor with a potential future lawmaker. It’s also why the incumbency advantage goes beyond simple name recognition. Congressional members have easier access to political action committees, lobbyists, and business leaders. And as members of Congress climb the leadership ranks and obtain powerful committee assignments, their fund-raising prospects escalate, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars for themselves and for candidates they support around the country. Despite Cantwell raising more than $12 million, McGavick has managed to stay in the race. The latest Rasmussen poll showed him just six points behind, with 48 percent of Washingtonians favoring Cantwell compared with 42 percent for McGavick. McGavick has narrowed the gap by using his connections in both Washington state and the District to raise campaign money. “We’re within striking distance,” says Michael McKay, former Bush-Cheney 2004 Washington state vice chair and a member of McGavick’s fund-raising committee. “You can compare that with where Cantwell was six years ago, and she was a lot farther behind at this point in the polls.” TEAM McGAVICK Since McGavick announced his intention to enter the Senate race, one of his key strengths has been using the Republican establishment to raise money for him. “He has an outstanding fund-raising effort,” says McKay. “He has a very deep finance committee with a lot of business people who have the wherewithal to raise a lot of money.” Winning back Washington state’s Senate seat has been a priority for the Republican party after Cantwell’s narrow victory over McGavick’s former boss, then-Sen. Slade Gorton (R), in 2000. The Republican Party has called upon GOP insiders for help, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), first lady Laura Bush, and, most recently, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, each of whom has headlined events in Washington state for McGavick. “Cantwell is certainly one of the threatened incumbents,” says Brian Walton, a spokesman for the NRSC. “We’ll be putting resources and time on [the race].” The NRSC has also put its money where its mouth is, pumping $15,000 into McGavick’s campaign, and it is expected to kick in more money for ad buys. “The party has been very active on Mike’s behalf,” says former Republican Washington Rep. Jennifer Dunn, now a lobbyist for DLA Piper. “When you get the first lady to come out and campaign for you, that is what they call targeting in politics.” But McGavick has done more than just find donors in Washington state to fund his campaign. He’s also reached into his D.C. Rolodex on three separate fund-raising jaunts. He didn’t need to look much further than former Gorton staffers such as Washington2 Advocates lobbyists Tony Williams, founder of the firm, and J. Vander Stoep, both of whom have taken on adviser roles in McGavick’s campaign. Longtime Washington state politico and lobbyist Henry “Eddie” Mahe Jr. of Foley & Lardner has also taken an advisory role in the campaign. McGavick and Mahe got to know each other working on Gorton’s 1988 re-election bid. “He’s been involved in politics for so many years on the staff side that he has a lot of good connections in D.C.,” says Dunn. “He gets how the business works.” In June, McGavick spent three days in Washington at fund-raisers and meet-and-greets, including a breakfast fund-raiser hosted by Clark Consulting Federal Policy Group, with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) attending. “I think there has been a lot of buzz because he’s viewed as a very capable guy who can raise money and [has] economic resources,” says Kenneth Kies, managing director of Clark Consulting. “The view is, his opponent is vulnerable.” McGavick followed breakfast with a meet-and-greet lunch with the National Mining Association and dinner with the Financial Services Roundtable at the Monocle restaurant on Capitol Hill. National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors Vice President Jade West says McGavick raised more than $100,000 in June. “[Being in Washington] gives him real exposure,” says West, who is heading up “Team McGavick” efforts. West says she expects the team to raise $450,000 in campaign funds. So far, he’s raised $683,432 from political action committees, according to the Federal Election Commission Web site. McGavick has also given $2 million of his own money to fund the race.”It’s important for any challenger to be able to demonstrate a certain degree of national support, and much of that is obviously centered in Washington, D.C.,” says Elliott Bundy, a McGavick spokesman. But he is quick to add, “By far, we have [focused] on the financial support within the state of Washington, where the vast majority of our money comes from.” McGavick’s most recent fund-raising trip to the District at the end of September included four fund-raisers with GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah): a $250-per-person lunch, a $1,000-per-person reception at the National Mining Association office, a reception at NRSC headquarters with President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and a fund-raiser at the recently opened Johnny’s Half Shell restaurant on Capitol Hill. “We’re involved in about 156 races through our two PACs, MinePAC and CoalPAC,” says Carol Raulston, communications director for the mining association. “Cantwell has, on our score card, a zero voting record, so we’re really just looking for a fair hearing from [McGavick].” Raulston says the group raised around $20,000 in September for McGavick and noted the personal connection between NMA President Kraig Naasz and McGavick�both worked for the American Insurance Association�as a reason the group got involved. “This particular cycle, challenger candidates on the whole are having a more difficult time raising money on the Republican side because there are so many races in play,” says Monica Notzon, head of Republican fund-raising shop Bellwether Consulting Group. “McGavick has done a fantastic job. He is the leading challenger candidate in terms of PAC money raised. It’s symbolic of not just money, but of support back in the state.” But by no means is McGavick the first challenger to successfully use Washington to raise the bar in political fund-raising. In the 2004 Illinois Senate race, then-state legislator Barack Obama raised almost $15 million to capture the open seat. Of that, 32 percent were out of state, and $1.2 million was from PACs. Cantwell’s no stranger to the money chase, either. In the six years since she took office, her treasury blossomed to more than $12 million; she still has $5 million to spend, according to her end-of-August financial report. Since Cantwell’s 2000 campaign, when she declined PAC money and personally doled out $6.5 million of the $10 million she spent to oust Gorton, her personal wealth has plummeted as the tech market, where she had most of her money in stocks, tanked. Cantwell continues her no-PAC-money pledge, but cash still finds its way to her cause. She has accepted money from candidates’ personal campaign funds. She has also gotten boosts from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other committees of more than $400,000. “Most of our contributions are from Washington state,” says Amanda Mahnke, Cantwell’s press secretary. She declined to comment on the amount of fund-raising money that comes from out of state. But according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, more than $5 million of Cantwell donations came that way. ‘AN UNUSUAL TALENT’ McGavick got his start in politics at an early age. But he is attempting to do what many former congressional staffers have failed to do: follow in their bosses’ footsteps to elected office. As a young boy in the Seattle suburb of Wallingford, McGavick grew up learning about politics from his father Joe McGavick, a former state legislator. As politicians and advisers dropped by the house, McGavick worked on his first campaign by going door-to-door with his red wagon handing out leaflets for his father. Later, McGavick rose from being Gorton’s driver in his 1968 state attorney general race to Gorton’s chief of staff after engineering his 1988 senatorial comeback. McGavick, then 30, was the architect of the campaign to reintroduce a friendlier version of Gorton while slamming Democrat Mike Lowry with negative television ads accusing Lowry of being in favor of legalizing marijuana, despite evidence to the contrary. “The campaigns back then were very hard-hitting campaigns, but they were almost always about issues, not the person,” says McGavick. McGavick has vowed to not endorse character-attack ads. He went so far as to take out a full-page ad in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call after a third-party group, the Free Enterprise Fund, ran an ad depicting Cantwell as a vulture after she voted against repealing the estate tax. Former colleagues from Gorton’s D.C. office recall McGavick working particularly closely with McCain’s staff. He also was unofficial chief of staff to a group of Republican members, including Gorton, Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.), and then-Sen. Connie Mack (Fla.), nicknamed the S-13 group, after the room where they held weekly meetings to talk about affecting the political debate in Washington. “He went to D.C., worked for a minority member from a distant state, and he was recognized by a great number of people as a very unusual talent,” says adviser J. Vander Stoep. THE POLITICO Dissatisfied with partisan politics on Capitol Hill, McGavick left Gorton’s office after two years. He moved on to public policy consulting shop the Gallatin Group and then served three years as director of the Superfund Improvement Project for the American Insurance Association, lobbying for insurance-liability reforms for the country’s hazardous-waste cleanup laws before turning to business. In 2001, McGavick was named chief executive of Seattle-based Safeco Corp., an insurance company that was losing $1 billion a year when he took the helm. While there he laid off 1,200 workers, about 10 percent of the insurer’s work force, but has largely been hailed for returning the company to profitability. (Safeco’s stock was trading at about $54 a share when McGavick left earlier this year, compared with $24.56 when he started on Jan. 30, 2001.) Still, McGavick stayed involved with politics. He and his wife, Gaelynn, have donated $6,350 to candidates since 1998. He also helped with fund-raising and strategy in former Washington state Sen. Dino Rossi’s bid to become governor in 2004. After working at Safeco for five years, McGavick began toying with the idea of running for political office. He set up an exploratory committee with venerable Washington state Republicans such as Gorton, Dunn, conservative radio host John Carlson, and Western Wireless Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Stanton to consider the viability of running against Cantwell. Safeco-PAC has contributed $5,000, and individual Safeco employees have contributed more than $15,000 to McGavick, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Advisers convinced McGavick that the political dynamic was right, with Republicans still upset with the 2004 governor’s race results (Rossi lost by 129 votes) and Democrats bashing Cantwell for voting for the Iraq war. Cantwell has also faced criticism in Washington state for a 1999 personal loan of $15,000 to $50,000 to lobbyist Ron Dotzauer, her campaign manager in 2000. Dotzauer runs lobby shop Strategies 360, and his clients have received millions of dollars in federal money. Cantwell press secretary Mahnke declined to comment regarding the loan. Yet McGavick’s record hasn’t remained squeaky-clean in the race. So far, he’s faced a lawsuit filed by Safeco shareholder Emma Schwartzman, the great-great-granddaughter of Safeco’s founder, charging that his severance package of $28 million was fraudulent and wasteful. The Washington State Democratic Party also filed a Federal Election Commission complaint alleging that the accelerated stock options and cash severance Safeco gave McGavick constitute an illegal campaign contribution. And more recently, McGavick disclosed a drunk-driving arrest in Maryland in 1993. Despite saying he doesn’t “particularly like living in D.C.” and that he’s “never really gotten bit by �Potomac fever,’ ” McGavick has shown he’s adept at understanding how both Washingtons work. As Election Day nears, McGavick will be focusing solely on his home state. But should he come to the nation’s capital as a new senator, he might find that some of his friends here who helped him get elected want something in return. Anna Palmer can be contacted [email protected].

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