And they’re off! The League of Conservation Voters has made its first endorsement for the 2006 election, 14 months ahead of time, throwing its green weight behind Washington state’s junior senator, Maria Cantwell, and promising to mount “an aggressive campaign” to reelect the Democrat.

Cantwell will need all the help she can get; she’s likely in for a tough fight. She won by a teensy margin in 2000, against Slade Gorton, and then proceeded to piss off much of her liberal base in 2002 by voting in favor of the Iraq war resolution. Republicans have determined that hers is one of the five most vulnerable Democratic seats in the Senate and will be pumping resources into the campaign to defeat her. It’s not clear who she’ll be up against — state Republican Party Chair Chris Vance and former Rep. Rick White are two prominent potential contenders — but whoever it is, they’ll be well-funded.

LCV says Cantwell was one of only two senators to get a 100 percent rating on the group’s 2004 National Environmental Scorecard. Among her eco-achievements as touted by LCV: leading the effort to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, pushing for creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness Area in Washington, fighting to hold polluters responsible for their Superfund messes, and battling Enron on behalf of bilked ratepayers. They should have listed her notable though unsuccessful effort to attach to the energy bill a provision requiring the feds to reduce imports of foreign oil by 40 percent in 20 years.

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