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Friday, October 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Election 2006

Cantwell, McGavick underscore differences in new ads

Seattle Times staff reporter

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and her Republican challenger Mike McGavick traded barbs in campaign ads released on Thursday, and both began their messages with the same statement: There are big differences between us.

Cantwell's radio ad highlighted McGavick's position on Social Security, while McGavick unveiled radio and television spots that touched on a range of issues, including federal entitlements.

Like most political messages, neither provided much context.

McGavick blasted Cantwell's vote to maintain current policy and protect Social Security benefits earned by illegal immigrants after they become citizens. Cantwell's position was identical to Republican Sen. John McCain, who campaigned for McGavick, and a slim majority of senators.

In his radio ad, McGavick said the National Taxpayers Union ranked Cantwell as the No. 1 spender in the U.S. Senate.

Peter Sepp, spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based group, said his organization tracks all votes on spending, but it is careful not to rank individual senators because it doesn't include "earmarks" and other spending measures directly inserted into legislation.

"We don't use that kind of label — that so-and-so is the biggest tight wad and so-and-so is the biggest spender," Sepp said. "It depends on the yardstick you care to use."

The National Taxpayers Union said Cantwell voted for more spending measures than any other senator in the 108th Congress, from 2003-04. But those votes include bills and amendments that failed, too.

McGavick touted his proposal to drug-test welfare recipients and said he wanted to abolish the estate tax, both positions opposed by Cantwell.

Cantwell's ad focuses exclusively on Social Security, and contends McGavick would "change Social Security by privatizing it."

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McGavick shot back late Thursday with a press release that claimed Cantwell was "blatantly misrepresenting" his ideas.

Instead of private portfolios managed directly by Wall Street, McGavick said he advocates setting up personal accounts overseen by a new federal bureaucracy that would allow people to chose investment options, including stocks and other securities. Those who choose unwisely would receive lower payments at retirement.

The Cantwell ad also says McGavick supports means testing — developing a formula by which high-wealth individuals would receive smaller benefits.

McGavick has said he wants to ask people to voluntarily return portions of their Social Security checks, but, if that didn't raise enough revenue, he would consider mandatory means testing.

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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