By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
Republican Michael Baumgartner, a first-term state senator from Spokane, could be considered a long shot in his race to unseat two-term U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Edmonds.
He’s not well known around the state and lags behind Cantwell in fundraising, $875,000 to about $2 million.
The race has not drawn nearly as much attention as Cantwell’s race against Mike McGavick six years ago, or Sen. Patty Murray’s race against Dino Rossi in 2010.
Cantwell led Baumgartner in an Oct. 4 Rasmussen poll, 57 percent to 37 percent.
Baumgartner is undaunted.
“We’re certainly underdogs. We’re an underdog campaign with big ideas,” said Baumgartner, 36. The winner “should be who has the best ideas and solutions.”
Part of the reason for the campaign’s low profile has been Cantwell herself; she’s been running a low-key campaign. The two candidates have appeared together only once, at an endorsement interview with The Herald editorial board. Cantwell ran her first campaign commercial last week.
Baumgartner accuses Cantwell of dodging joint appearances with him. Cantwell said she’s been busy.
“I’ve been working very hard on things like getting the tanker deal and training program for veterans on important aerospace jobs,’” she said.
The economy is her No. 1 issue, Cantwell said.
She advocates beefing up training programs at the community college level and is working on establishing a local research center for biofuels. Boeing has been researching the making of fuel from algae. She passed a bill in her first term to establish a research center at the University of Washington for composite materials, which ultimately were used in Boeing’s 787.
Baumgartner says a good way to help the economy would be to reduce the deficit.
He would focus on changing entitlement programs, through such ideas as vouchers for private coverage options to Medicare, and raising the age at which some would collect Social Security benefits, similar to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s plan in his campaign.
“What’s the alternative, a bankrupt Medicare system that’s bankrupt for everybody?” Baumgartner said.
Cantwell is flatly opposed to any privatization of Medicare.
“That’s where we very much differ,” she said. “It shifts the burden to the seniors. It’s saying, ‘I’m giving you a check for $6,000 but then you have to fight with insurance companies.’”
Regarding the deficit, Cantwell said she voted for the McCaskill-Sessions debt reduction plan that didn’t pass, and advocates going after Wall Street, perhaps through some type of transaction reform.
“They got bailed out and the American people didn’t,” she said.
In contrast to his Medicare proposal, Baumgartner is left of most Republicans, even left of center, on several other issues. He favors a quick withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; supports restoring provisions of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which required separation of banking functions and was repealed in 1999; and he favors I-502, the ballot measure to legalize marijuana in the state.
“I consider myself strongly independent,” he said.
That bent, Baumgartner said, could help melt the partisan ice floes in Washington, D.C.
“I think if you look at the challenges America faces, it needs people capable of creating fiscally responsible, bipartisan budgets,” he said.
Cantwell said she’s reached across the aisle to get many things done, including a sales-tax deduction for Washington state residents; the authorization of the composites research center, and a farm bill that includes promotion of exports for apples, cherries and other state crops.
The two differ slightly on the Afghan war. Baumgartner has worked at several jobs in the Middle East, including for the U.S. State Department in Iraq and in a program working with farmers in Afghanistan, encouraging to switch from growing opium to growing wheat. He advocates a quick withdrawal of troops.
“We need to be chasing and killing terrorists, like we are doing in Somalia and Yemen,” Baumgartner says on his website.
Cantwell supported President Barack Obama’s 2009 deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. She also backs the president’s current plan to withdraw combat troops by 2014.
Maintaining some presence there for the time being is important for Afghanistan, she said — “so they can take charge of the security, so we don’t have to stay there to provide a military solution to the region’s political problems.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.
What’s the job?
At stake is a six-year term as United States senator. The Senate, along with the U.S. House of Representatives, is the policy-making branch of the United States government. The annual base salary is $174,000.
Experience: State senator, 2011-present; contract adviser for U.S. military combat teams on the economics of the Middle East and counterinsurgency, 2009-present; numerous positions in the Middle East, including as a member of a U.S. State Department-funded counternarcotics team in Afghanistan, 2008-09; State Department officer in Iraq, 2007-08.
Experience: U.S. senator, 2001-present; vice president of marketing for RealNetworks, 1995-1999; member U.S. House of Representatives, 1st Congressional district, 1993-1995; state representative from Mountlake Terrace, 1987-1993.