Donald Lambro

"Two things are going on here," he said. "One, we're getting better known and people know what my message is and that's building support as we go along. On the other side of the equation, Cantwell continues to face a barrage of aggressive questions from Democrats on her support for the war. That is having the effect of pulling her support down."

McGavick says two overriding issues are driving his campaign and striking a responsive chord in the electorate.

"One is to promote a civil campaign that says this rank partisanship and mean-spiritedness has to stop. We continue to find that this resonates with voters," he said.

"The other is immigration. The senator and I couldn't disagree more on securing our southern borders and the idea that we should end Social Security benefits to those working here illegally.

"Immigration is the one issue voters ask about most and that has the most intensity. More intensity than the war in Iraq," he said.

He acknowledges that "the war is less popular in our state than in other states and there's more people supporting an immediate pullout.

"But I find that if you get in front of audiences and have an open mind and reflect on the reality that we can't just leave them to a civil war in Iraq and that it would be riskier to our troops to have a timetable, that you can pull people over to a more patient approach," he said.

McGavick is making his first run for public office, but he's no neophyte when it comes to the workings of the Senate. He was a chief aide to Sen. Slade Gorton, whom Cantwell defeated in 2000 with 48.7 percent of the vote

He knows it could be an equally tight contest this time around, too. But he also knows that Cantwell's political albatross is her party's antiwar left and pointedly says, "Remember, there will be probably four of us on the ballot" in November. The other two will be third-party candidates running against the war and that means taking votes away from Cantwell.

That sets up the kind of scenario that the senator was attempting to buy off earlier this month. But the Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates can't be bought, and many voters who want us out of Iraq will likely vote for them to "send a message."

That may be just enough votes in a close election to make Mike McGavick the next senator from Washington.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.