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Frist backs McGavick but not all his views
Seattle Times chief political reporter
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, in town Monday to raise money for Republican Senate hopeful Mike McGavick, found himself and the candidate with different views of the Iraq war and how well Republicans have distinguished themselves from Democrats on the issue.
McGavick said he would have opposed the war in 2003 if he knew then the truth about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Frist said he still would have voted to invade Iraq and remove Saddam from power.
At a news conference with Frist at his side, McGavick said major Senate debates in June over Democratic calls for withdrawing troops were "partisan squabbles without much meaning."
Frist saw the debates as critically important in telling Americans where Republicans and Democrats stand on the war. "The global picture is they're waving the white flag and we're going to fight the war on terror," he said in an interview.
McGavick is the Republican Party choice to run against first-term Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, who also says she wouldn't have voted for the war knowing what she knows now.
McGavick's statements on the war put him out of step with the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate.
His differences with Frist were hardly a misstep, though. McGavick wants to run as the nonpartisan Republican, beholden to common sense and civility, not party leaders like Frist who have come to raise money for his campaign.
Frist headlined a fundraiser for McGavick at the Rainier Club on Monday. The two also raised money and campaigned in Spokane earlier in the day.
The two spoke to reporters at a general-aviation facility at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after arriving on a private jet. Frist, a physician from Tennessee, is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year. Washington is his first stop on a summer-recess fundraising and campaigning tour.
"If I knew then everything that I know today and the Republican leadership still brought it up for a vote, I would have voted no," Cantwell said in a statement Monday.
"If the Bush administration had done the hard work of building an international coalition to really contain Saddam, there would have been no vote," she said.
She also accused the Republican-led Congress of failing to provide aggressive oversight of the war and said Congress must hold the administration accountable for more progress toward "beginning to bring troops home this year."
McGavick repeated his contention that the issues around the invasion should not be debated until the war is over and all U.S. troops are back.
But he told reporters he would not have gone to war without a real threat that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. "If I had been in the Senate then and we did not think that he was in active pursuit or imminent pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, I would have wanted diplomacy to be given a longer chance," he said.
"I would have done exactly what we did," he said. "I would have taken Saddam Hussein out. He used chemical weapons on his own people, killing thousands and thousands of them. He's invaded two sovereign nations, he's a mass murderer, a brutal dictator. Diplomacy, I believe, would not have worked."
David Postman: 360-236-8267 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company