‘Underdog’ takes aim at Cantwell’s Senate seat
NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
SPOKANE – Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner doesn’t so much speak as blurt out a torrent of words.
A Republican who is seeking the nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Baumgartner, 36, is clearly a man in a hurry.
The native of Pullman has already visited or lived in 70 countries, worked in both Iraq and Afghanistan, been a diplomat and a private contractor for the federal government, won the most expensive state Senate race in history in 2010, and almost immediately decided to make a longshot bid for the U.S. Senate.
Clearly, no moss gathers under Baumgartner, one of four Republicans in the race against Cantwell. The others are Dr. Art Coday of Shoreline, a physician; Chuck Jackson of Snohomish; Glen “Stocky” Stockwell of Ritzville, who wants to complete the Columbia Basin Project; and perennial candidate Mike the Mover, his legal name.
All the GOP candidates are likely vying to face Cantwell, who has token opposition from fellow Democrat Timmy Wilson. The top two finishers in the August primary, regardless of party, advance to the general election.
Sitting in a north Spokane coffee shop recently, the youthful Baumgartner acknowledged he faces an uphill road against a senator seeking her third term.
“We are an underdog campaign,” Baumgartner said.
First, he is a Republican in a state that usually votes for Democrats. Second, he hails from sparsely-populated Eastern Washington, from which candidates rarely win statewide office.
But Baumgartner noted that Republicans currently hold the Washington attorney general and secretary of state positions. And he doesn’t believe that voters will be biased against someone just because he lives in Spokane.
“The people of Washington state are not geographic bigots,” he said.
Anyway, Baumgartner is more a citizen of the world than a citizen of the 509 area code.
He was raised in Pullman, where his father spent 40 years as a professor of forestry at Washington State University and his mother was a teacher. The family traveled extensively to other countries while he was a child. He got a bachelor’s degree in economics from Washington State and a master’s in international development from Harvard.
Since then he has worked in numerous private and public sector jobs, often in international business.
He worked in both Iraq (2007-08) and Afghanistan (2009). He met his wife, Eleanor, a British journalist, while both were working in Afghanistan.
“I found love in Helmand province, Afghanistan,” he joked.
Eleanor is writing a book on Afghanistan. The couple has one son and a second on the way.
He moved to Spokane in 2010 and decided to challenge well-regarded Democratic state Sen. Chris Marr for his seat. The race cost more than $1 million, but the unknown Baumgartner was able to upset Marr.
He was hardly in office a year when he decided to seek a big promotion to the U.S. Senate.
Baumgartner describes himself as a “pragmatic conservative” who is not tied to the tea party movement.
He is willing to work with Democrats, noting he is used to finding common ground with foes.
“I dealt with different tribes overseas,” he said.
He considers the economy, the national debt and foreign policy the main issues of the campaign.
“This is not an easy campaign to win, but it’s easy to talk about,” he said, because of the myriad problems facing the nation, starting with the broken politics of Washington, D.C.
“We need a balanced budget amendment,” he said, because that would force politicians of both parties to work together.
“I am not shying away from an educated discussion of Medicare reform,” Baumgartner added. “You have to talk about third rails.”
He said the nation has a “confused foreign policy in the Middle East,” such as trying to prod Afghanistan to become a democracy.
“We can’t bankrupt the country,” he said. “We need a smarter, more realistic approach.”
The economy also needs fixing, he said.
“Borrowing money from China to give loans is not the way to grow the economy,” he said.
He said the nation has been “lucky and blessed” not to have suffered another major terrorist strike since 9/11.
“People don’t realize what a significant threat we face from radical terrorists,” he said.
If he is the nominee, he said, voters will have a clear decision this year between competing political views. He believes that if he raises enough money to get his message out, he can win.
While Cantwell has raised millions, Baumgartner has raised only about $500,000 so far, as many GOP donors are waiting until after the primary to open their checkbooks.
“We think we can do well in the primary and become a national race,” he said.
But much depends on the primary. If Cantwell comes out with a big lead, he acknowledged his road becomes pretty tough.
With little money, Baumgartner has been relying on some unique promotions. That includes pub crawls with supporters in many cities. He also handed out Cracker Jack outside Safeco Field before a recent Seattle Mariners game.