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Senator Cites Drilling Battle As Source of Interstate Rift

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), with members of the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, has blamed much of the recent political discord between his state and Washington on Sen. Maria Cantwell's opposition to Arctic drilling.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), with members of the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, has blamed much of the recent political discord between his state and Washington on Sen. Maria Cantwell's opposition to Arctic drilling. (By Russ Carmack -- Tacoma News Tribune)

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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 17, 2006

TACOMA, Wash. -- As he pushed his way into the Senate race in Washington state last week, Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) did not wear the "Incredible Hulk" necktie that on Capitol Hill signals his readiness for close-quarters combat.

The Senate's longest-serving Republican sounded more wistful than wound up. Stevens reminisced about an era when he could trust Democratic senators from Washington state. He recalled that the late senators Warren G. Magnuson and Henry "Scoop" Jackson had "adopted" him and had always done right by Alaska.

"Warren called me 'Son,' " Stevens, 82, said at a breakfast in this port city with executives whose companies depend on trade with Alaska. "I have not forgotten."

Fond memory, though, has given way to bad blood between Alaska and Washington -- and Stevens blames much of it on Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who faces reelection this fall. She has lead Democratic opposition to Stevens's long-frustrated crusade for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

When Cantwell again worked last December to torpedo the drilling, Stevens warned on the Senate floor that he would go to her state and "tell them what you've done." And so he did last week, but more in sadness than anger.

"I can't remember until these past few years any senator from your state who wasn't a close friend of mine," Stevens said. "That is a problem."

The problem, though, does not appear to be costing Cantwell voter support. Polls here show that the public is opposed to ANWR drilling and increasingly frustrated with Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

Stevens's ire, in fact, may prove a political windfall for Cantwell, who squeaked into the Senate six years ago with a winning margin of just over 2,000 votes and whom some Republican strategists have described as beatable.

In the past year, Cantwell's knack for getting Stevens's goat has won widespread attention across this Democratic-leaning state, garnered favorable local press coverage, partially drowned out the campaign of her formidable Republican challenger and, polls suggest, may help her win reelection.

"All over this state, the ANWR vote has definitely had more resonance than any issue in the last couple of years," Cantwell said in an interview. "People here told me thanks for standing up for something we care about, thanks for standing up to oil companies, thanks for standing up to that guy [Stevens]."

That guy -- along with fellow members of the Alaska congressional delegation and a gaggle of oil executives with deep pockets -- hosted a fundraiser Thursday night in Anchorage for Mike McGavick, a former insurance executive and Cantwell's Republican challenger.

McGavick, who supports ANWR drilling as "as a piece of the puzzle for how we reduce the influence of foreign oil," was pasted last week in the local press for traveling to Alaska to collect money from big oil.


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