Could Rick White be the anti-Cantwell?

Can Rick White do it again?

Knock Maria Cantwell out of Congress, that is?

I hadn’t even considered the Bainbridge Island lawyer who knocked off the 1st District’s freshman Democratic congresswoman in 1994 as the GOP’s champion in its hope of making Cantwell a one-termer in the U.S. Senate, too.

Then I read in the Seattle Times where state Republican chair Chris Vance said he’d been told by the White House that it wanted the 2006 Senate race here to be one-on-one, not a messy primary with Republicans tossing dirt at each other that could be used by the Democrats in the finals. Vance, who has been itching to run for something big for a long time, has suddenly cooled off on himself going against Cantwell, as has Safeco chair-CEO Mike McGavick.

White, on the other hand, has taken a leave from his job as CEO of TechNet, and has been running back and forth to Washington, D.C., as if he had been drafted by Bush 43. He, Vance and McGavick, he said, had agreed only one of them would do the job. Because the state goes to the top-two primary system this year, the party, Vance said, plans to nominate its Senate candidate at its summer convention.

The only other monkeywrench in this deal, if it can be called that, would be if Dino Rossi fails to recapture the governorship he won twice and was relieved of by what I now regard as not just negligence but chicanery in King County.

Rossi has first dibbies on the party’s nomination for the Senate if he wants it. He won’t say until the governor’s race is settled by the courts.

Anyway, back to White, who was once one of the most promising politicians in the nation, so much so that the Wall Street Journal assigned a reporter to cover his activities during his first year in Congress. David Broder, probably the most esteemed national political columnist, wrote about him. White was involved in numerous efforts to make Congress more efficient and responsive.

He ran against Cantwell as a family man. His wife and four kids were with him everywhere. His opponent, he said, was a single woman with no family because she had nothing in her life but politics. Into his second term, however, the word was out that he and wife Vikki were separated. The why is a mystery. She wouldn’t talk about it and he wouldn’t talk about it, other than to say there was no third party involved and they were trying to work things out.

Then one day Vikki got a phone call from a reporter inquiring about the divorce suit her husband had filed at the Kitsap County courthouse without notice to her. That, White told me later, was not entirely true, but he wasn’t going to pursue correcting it.

All the sympathy, on the island, anyway, was with Vikki. Even staunch Republicans in the district were outraged. His longtime friend and veteran Republican Bruce Craswell filed against him on the American Heritage party ticket and took enough votes away from him to enable carpetbagger Democrat Jay Inslee to win.

A second mystery about the Rick White divorce cropped up in the Nov. 23, 1998 issue of Time Magazine, correcting an Oct. 19 item. Was it sent after the election to avoid damaging his re-election chances, or before, and held by the magazine for the same reason?

Here’s the letter: “In a caption with your story ‘Why the Mid-terms Matter’ (Nation, Oct. 19), you said of my ex-husband, Rick White of Washington State’s 1st District, that ‘he’s had his own marital problems; his wife recently divorced him.’ You didn’t do your homework. The statement should have read. ‘He recently divorced and left his wife and four young children.’ Vikki Kennedy White, Bainbridge Island, Wa.”

My inquiry of Vikki White on the timing of her letter, left on her telephone answering machine, was not responded to. Has the anger and outrage over the way White handled his divorce died down enough so he’s a credible candidate against Cantwell for the Senate? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, Wa., 98340.

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