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Nethercutt spars with protesters

Congressman George Nethercutt didn’t find it quite so easy to barnstorm through Bainbridge, dropping a quick stump speech before breezing on to the next of many campaign stops Wednesday.

First he had to contend with three high school students armed with colorful signs and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Spokane Republican’s political track record.

“When he originally ran against Tom Foley, his entire position was about decreasing term limits,” said Rebecca Siviz, a 17-year-old Bainbridge High School student, as she protested outside the Republicans’ Ericksen Avenue campaign office.

Defeating former House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994, Nethercutt promised to serve three terms and retire his post, but is now in his fifth term. Now the 5th Congressional District Representative has his sights set on the Senate, with Tuesday’s primary christening him the Republican nominee to face Sen. Patty Murray in November.

Murray, the 12-year incumbent, was marked as a shoo-in when the campaign season began. Now the race has narrowed to single digits, with Murray leading 48 percent to Nethercutt’s 41 percent, according to a Sept. 9 survey conducted by Strategic Visions, an Atlanta-based conservative pollster.

Nethercutt’s defeat of Foley, then the third most powerful man in Washington, adds credence to Republican expectations that Nethercutt has what it takes to beat one of the Senate’s most high-profile liberals.

Sivitz said she fears more broken promises if Republicans get their wish.

“If he’s elected to the Senate, I expect constant hypocrisy,” she said.

Sivitz also railed against Nethercutt’s recent vote to block a $1,500 bonus to troops serving in Iraq and Afganistan.

“He did that months after saying he supported all increases to veterans,” she said. “The bill failed by one vote. If he voted for it, he would have fulfilled his promise.”

The protesters’ attacks against Nethercutt elicited a heated exchange with the Congressman’s supporters. Bill Hart, a Vietnam War veteran who accompanied Nethercutt on his campaign bus, objected to a protesters’ sign that read “George is M.I.A. for Veterans.”

“You ought to tear that up and throw it in the sewer,” he said. “You’re not old enough to know what a uniform is.”

Hart praised Nethercutt’s support for a Spokane veterans’ hospital, the first of its kind in Eastern Washington. Nethercutt is also credited with bringing a Bush administration official to Walla Walla to hear veterans’ concerns in April.

The heated exchange between protesters, supporters and a few passersby drew Nethercutt out of the campaign office where he waited to give his speech.

Nethercutt shook hands with protesters and commended their political involvement. But Sivitz wasn’t letting him off so easy.

“Why did you contradict yourself when you ran for a fourth term?” she asked while clasping the candidate’s hand.

“The question is: ‘Did it hurt anybody?’” he answered. “I let the people decide. That’s our system.”

Aides ushered the candidate back to the house to maintain the candidate’s tight schedule. Nethercutt made 11 campaign stops Wednesday, including five in the county.

With 30 supporters encircling him in the office, Nethercutt turned his attention to Murray, first taking aim at her record on taxes.

“She’s literally taxing us to death,” he said, charging that the senator has voted to raise taxes almost 300 times.

Nethercutt then swung at Murray’s stance against the Iraq War and accused her of being soft on terror.

“We’re facing serious issues around the world,” he said. “It’s frightening for you as citizens. (Murray) thinks national defense begins at our border. I know national defense means going where the terrorists are.”

Despite Murray’s recent efforts to boost the state’s ferry system with federal funds, Nethercutt said his opponent hasn’t done enough.

“Transportation is her big calling card, but she’s been a failure,” he said. “She’s been in the Senate 12 years and we have worse traffic today. I’m all for transportation. I’ve driven the highway here. I’ve seen the traffic patterns. It’s been like this for years.”

Nethercutt called for nine debates with the senator, one in each congressional district. Murray has so far agreed to two, with the first set at Gonzaga University in Spokane on Oct. 15.

“These debates will allow her to explain her votes for higher taxes and why she didn’t want to remove Saddam Hussein and bring freedom to those people,” he said.

Nethercutt said his stop in what is often perceived as a liberal enclave of Bainbridge Island was meant to broaden the reach of his platform, one he said can appeal to Democrats and independents.

“Every vote counts,” he said. “I used to live in Suquamish and traveled that ferry for six months. It’s a great area, and I value all its votes.”

Nethercutt and Murray will join Libertarian J. Mills and Green Party candidate Mark Wilson, a Suquamish business owner, on the Nov. 2 ballot.

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