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Thursday, August 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:17 AM

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State's Vietnam schism revisited

Seattle Times Washington bureau

The criticism Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell has faced from anti-war activists echoes the rebellion that confronted Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson in his re-election campaign at the height of the Vietnam War.

In 1970, state Democrats were hotly divided over Vietnam, but slipping leftward. Republican Richard Nixon was president, and Vietnam's civil war had intensified into a major international conflict.

Jackson had earned the nickname "superhawk" for his unwavering support of the war. His Senate seat is now held by Cantwell, who has taken heat from members of her party for not repudiating her 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq war or speaking out against the conflict.

In May 1970, war protesters filled the streets of Seattle and shut down the University of Washington.

King County's Democrats did the unthinkable: They turned their backs on Jackson and endorsed a Spokane lawyer for the Senate. He was Carl Maxey, a civil-rights attorney and head of the liberal Washington Democratic Council.

In July, "the state convention turned into mayhem" and Jackson was booed, said Jackson's biographer, Robert Kaufman, a Pepperdine University professor.

At this year's state Democratic convention, Cantwell was greeted by chants of "no more war" when she took the podium.

Jackson won his primary in September, with 85 percent of the vote, and went on to a landslide re-election. "Scoop was lucky in that Republicans were allowed to vote in the Democratic primary at that time," Kaufman said.

The parallels between Jackson and Cantwell aren't perfect. Jackson, unlike Cantwell, had a lengthy track record in the Senate delivering for state interests. Although his primary challenger was popular among party activists, his opponent in the general election was forgettable. And Nixon's White House did not attack Jackson during the race.

Cantwell is a freshman in the minority party with fewer accomplishments. She faces a serious, well-financed contender for the general election in Mike McGavick, and the White House has targeted her.

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Her party, however, has rallied around her, and McGavick's position on Iraq is not wildly different from Cantwell's.

There is another Vietnam-era parallel worth noting. Cantwell's late father, Paul Cantwell, an Indianapolis Democratic politician, was a strong supporter of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s — even while working in D.C. for one of the anti-war leaders in the House, Rep. Andy Jacobs, an Indiana Democrat.

But when Robert F. Kennedy began denouncing the war, Paul Cantwell switched sides.

"Paul and I divided on the issue and had many discussions about it, he for and I against," Jacobs said. In 1968, "Paul, in the manner of Bobby Kennedy who he supported for president, changed his mind and opposed the war policy," Jacobs added.

"Maria needs someone like Kennedy," he said.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., may have stepped into that role when she called for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation in a Senate hearing. Clinton is a leading contender for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008, and has supported the Iraq war.

She formed a PAC last year for women senators, and has raised money for Cantwell's campaign.

Shortly after Clinton berated Rumsfeld in public Aug. 3, Cantwell made two moves: She sponsored an amendment to oppose permanent bases in Iraq (which passed), and she demanded that the White House develop a political solution to the war.

"I would think Clinton's shot at Rumsfeld, given how quiet she's been, has to have a ripple effect, particularly on someone like Cantwell who has been so muted in her criticism," said Stuart Rothenberg, a longtime political analyst in D.C.

Clinton has defined what Democratic criticism of the war has been, Rothenberg said. She basically supported the policy, but not in a glowing way. Now, he said, Clinton has opened the door for others to be more critical.

Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or amundy@seattletimes.com

Staff researcher Gene Balk contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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