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Nethercutt challenges 'Cascade curtain'

The Spokane congressman aims to oust Sen. Murray.

In a presidential election year that will see campaign promises flying fast and furious, there’s one pledge island voters can count on: they’ll be seeing a lot more of George Nethercutt.

Rep. Nethercutt (R-5th District) told a group of more than 100 Republican loyalists this week he’s confident he will beat two-term U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, this fall in an East-West showdown.

Speaking Tuesday at a brunch sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Republican Women at Wing Point Golf and Country Club, Nethercutt reminded an enthusiastic crowd that he is no stranger to difficult races.

In 1994, his first run for office, he narrowly beat then-House Speaker Rep. Tom Foley (D) for the 5th Congressional District slot – the first defeat of a sitting speaker since 1860.

Nethercutt is now a five-term incumbent, winning his last election with 63 percent of the vote despite reneging on a campaign promise to serve no more than three terms if he beat Foley.

If he succeeds in penetrating the “Cascade curtain” by beating Murray in November, Nethercutt would be the first senator from eastern Washington since the New Deal era.

“I’m respectful of Patty Murray, but she’s no Tom Foley,” he said. “I have just as much experience as Patty Murray – just not as many elections.”

The 5th is the largest geographic district in Washington, Nethercutt said, emphasizing that his run will focus on his record on national and statewide issues.

Nethercutt sits on the House Appropriations Committee, where he is assigned to the Agriculture, Interior and Defense subcommittees.

Positioning himself as a “common-sense conservative,” Nethercutt said he has taken an active role in efforts to reduce the size and scope of the federal government and to support free trade for U.S. agricultural products.

As vice chairman of the Defense Subcommittee, he has worked on legislation related to military spending, homeland security and the war on terrorism.

In his speech Tuesday, Nethercutt criticized Murray’s record on defense spending, saying she has voted 34 times to cut the national defense budget.

He also cited his vote to limit medical liability awards, a measure Murray has consistently opposed.

“And I say that as a recovering lawyer,” he said to applause.

Nethercutt also voted for the “No Child Left Behind” Act, while Murray voted against the education initiative. Their votes were similarly split on the recent prescription bill for seniors.

The five-term Congressman criticized Senate Democrats for refusing to vote on a national energy policy and conservative judicial nominees.

Characterizing Murray as “the leftest of the left,” he said theirs is a pivotal state race.

“The voters will have a very clear choice,” he said. “It won’t be based on geography but on the policies we represent.”

The race is drawing top party attention, from the White House on down.

After declaring for the seat last July, Nethercutt said he met with President Bush and his chief political operative Karl Rove. Nethercutt said the president told him, “George, I’m never going to call you anything but ‘Senator’ again.”

“George Bush and Dick Cheney desperately want to win our state,” Nethercutt said. “They want to win, and they will win.”

He said the president and first lady have already committed to campaign appearances here.

Cheney, a longtime friend, also will be back. The vice president has made several recent fund-raising trips to the Seattle area, including a $500-a-plate dinner in Bellevue on Dec. 22 that bolstered Nethercutt’s war chest by $320,000.

Nethercutt said he has raised over $1 million in the last three months for a campaign he expects to cost $7-$8 million.

Describing Washington as a state with one of the highest unemployment rates and worst business climates in the U.S., Nethercutt said his campaign will focus on “security for our future – economic security and homeland security.”

He drew strong applause with the promise of a positive, “high-quality” campaign focused on issues rather than personal attacks.

Nethercutt also told the gathering, which rewarded his address with a standing ovation, that taking the ferry from Seattle brought back “many fond memories” of the island and the Kitsap peninsula.

Nethercutt lived in Suquamish for about six months, commuting to Seattle while establishing his first law practice there in the early 1970s.

His next scheduled campaign appearance in Kitsap County is in Bremerton on March 20, where he will be the featured speaker at the party’s Lincoln Day Dinner.

“You’ll be seeing a lot more of me,” he said.

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