WASHINGTON - It was one of the best lines in this week's Senate debate.
"Do you want to send somebody to Washington who is willing to cut thousands of employees off his payroll and take a cash bonus as a reward for that?" Sen. Maria Cantwell asked, referring to Republican challenger Mike McGavick.
As chief executive of Safeco Corp., McGavick laid off 1,700 people as he worked to return the insurance company to profitability. He received a bonus of $28 million when he left Safeco earlier this year.
Now Cantwell, the Democratic incumbent seeking a second Senate term from Washington, is repeating the attack in a new TV ad. "What's good for Mike is bad for the people of Washington," the ad says.
McGavick calls the ad out of bounds.
"Apparently, lying to voters about my position for Social Security reform was not enough. Sen. Cantwell now seeks to destroy a record of achievement and a record of saving thousands of jobs at Safeco," McGavick said Thursday in a statement.
"Until just recently, the senator has been content to let others do her dirty work. That she is now willing to personally attack me shows exactly how concerned she is."
In a response ad that began airing statewide Thursday, McGavick accuses Cantwell of trying to "twist what we did at Safeco into something negative," adding: "That's just politics as usual."
The truth, McGavick says, is that Safeco was going to fail without drastic action to revive it.
"We made the tough choices necessary to save that company and to save thousands of Northwest jobs," he says in the ad.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had people in Washington, D.C., who knew you didn't do the popular thing, you do the right thing for the greater good?"
That last line is a reminder of McGavick's overall theme of returning civility to Congress - a pledge made more difficult by recent attacks by both campaigns over Social Security, the Iraq War and other issues.
McGavick's spokesman, Elliott Bundy, said the latest Cantwell ad was no surprise.
"Obviously the senator is ramping up her attacks on Mike and is choosing to go down this low road of distorting his record at Safeco," Bundy said.
Cantwell spokeswoman Katharine Lister called McGavick's response a "classic non-denial denial" and said neither McGavick nor his campaign had "one time tried to dispute the facts of this ad."
McGavick has campaigned on his leadership style at Safeco - returning the company to profitability - "so we have the right to point out his values are not Washington state's values," Lister said. "We believe the choices he made as CEO of Safeco do not reflect the values of Washington state."