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East vs. West 

Can a little-known newcomer from the east side unseat Maria Cantwell this fall?

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Nobody Wanted It

The deadline to file for office has come and gone, and Spokane’s own Michael Baumgartner appears to be the GOP’s man to run for the U.S. Senate. Although there are five total Republicans in the race, no accomplished business type like Mike McGavick emerged, nor did any veteran, well-connected politico like Dino Rossi.

While that’s exciting news for Baumgartner, in the big picture it’s also further proof that Republicans are kind of giving up on statewide races. In fact, there hasn’t been a Republican governor here since John Spellman in 1985; the last GOP Senator, Slade Gorton, served more than a decade ago.

Anti-Incumbent Fever

The lack of a top-flight opponent for Maria Cantwell is even more odd since this year seems to be shaping up to be a very bad time to be an incumbent. People are fed up with Congress; some incumbents are going to get fired.

Baumgartner does have less than two years as a politician, which gives him the purity to run against Congress, if he chooses to. (Well under 40, he’s also got that Marco Rubio kind of youthful vibe.) But “fresh” also means nobody knows him — especially over on the more populated side of the state. 

This Could Get Ugly

One of the biggest problems Baumgartner has is his address. Seattle media and voters have a dismissive view of our side of the Cascades, and that bias may already be forming into a narrative he’ll have a hard time changing. History is tough, too the last governor from Eastern Washington was Clarence Martin (1933-41); the last U.S. Senator from here was C.C. Dill (1923-35). We just don’t have the clout we once did.

Then there’s money. As of March 31, Baumgartner had $144,000 on hand. Cantwell had $4.6 million, with plenty more available. That’s kind of like rowing your canoe out to face the USS Nimitz. And for Baumgartner there’s not likely to be any cavalry coming. Mitt Romney is ignoring the entire West Coast, and national Republican dollars will be funneled to tighter Senate races. Most state dollars will go to Rob McKenna’s gubernatorial campaign the GOP’s best shot at a statewide win. Our guy’s kind of on his own. 

Silver Linings

Of course anything can happen, and many political careers have been made by being in the right place at the right time, but this one’s a long shot. Still, if Baumgartner keeps the result close, he’ll be crowned a rising star in the statewide GOP not a big group, but at least next time around, people will know who he is. But to continue up the ladder he once told local voters he had no intentions of climbing so soon, he’ll need to get more strategic. As Rossi proved, the party and voters will only tolerate so many losses.

If Michael Baumgartner wants to govern and help Spokane prosper, he’s in a great position already. But if he has ambitions bigger than that, he may need to move to the West Side.

Ted S. McGregor Jr., @InlanderTMX

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