updated 7/10/2006 11:11:54 AM ET 2006-07-10T15:11:54

Democratic activist Mark Wilson, who had challenged U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell's bid for a second term, announced Sunday he is dropping out of the primary race to support her - and take a paid job with her campaign.

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"Today Democrats stand united," Cantwell said at a joint news conference at her campaign headquarters here.

"After 16 months of campaigning in Washington state for the U.S. Senate, I have come to terms with issues of deep conscience," Wilson said in a statement, adding that he felt the best course was to support the incumbent.

Working from within
"There are differences that still exist with me and some positions taken by Senator Cantwell," said the former Marine. "What has changed is my strategy. It is better to work for change from within and to have a voice at the table. This is not a concession. My conviction is that supporting Senator Cantwell is the surest way to winning for us all."

Neither Wilson nor Amanda Mahnke, a Cantwell campsign spokeswoman, would say how much Wilson will be paid for his campaign work, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. Wilson did say he was temporarily closing his business, which provides services to construction firms.

Cantwell said she was honored to have Wilson on her side.

"As a veteran, family man, small businessman and candidate, Mark has shown that he stands up for what he believes in, and I'm proud he is here today to say that he believes in me," she said.

An agreement on principle
Wilson said he and Cantwell had a private talk that persuaded him that "we are on the same path when it comes to solving the crisis in Iraq and the potential crisis with Iran. We agree there must be no permanent American military bases in Iraq," he said.

Cantwell's support for the Iraq war has alienated many liberal Democrats, though she has criticized Bush's stewardship. Wilson, who had called for repealing the Patriot Act and redirecting federal funds from fighter jets and tanks to alternative energy, had won the support of high-profile peace activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq.

Wilson said he and Cantwell also agree that every American should have access to quality health care. "We could not get any further from these important goals and remedies than with an insurance executive," Wilson said.

He was referring to the leading Republican candidate, former Safeco Insurance CEO Mike McGavick.

Opponents remain
There was no comment Sunday from McGavick headquarters, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington, D.C., offered a brief statement.

"A six-year incumbent still trying to win over her own party isn't something you'd expect Cantwell to be excited about, and certainly won't bring an end to the booing she faces from her base on the campaign trail," said Brian Walton, the committee's deputy press secretary.

While Cantwell's challengers lack cash and name recognition, their candidacies had turned the state's political left against Cantwell because of the war. Chants of "No More War" rang out before her speech at the state party convention earlier this year.

Another Democratic challenger, Hong Tran, a lawyer who handles public housing issues, has said Democrats shouldn't shift to the right just to win elections. But she herself was criticized when she went after Cantwell on Iraq and environmental issues.

Cantwell supporters praise her for helping block oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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