Battle Lines

Despite non-stop campaigning and a west-side focus, Michael Baumgartner finds it hard to make up ground against Maria Cantwell

There’s a chance a Republican will be in the Washington governor’s office next year. There’s a chance a Republican will be in the president’s office next year.

But with incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell besting her closest Republican opponent in money and poll numbers, is there any chance of a Republican taking her seat?

Ask Washington State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, the presumptive Republican nominee to face Cantwell in November, and he’ll tell you the answer’s yes.

“I think at the end of the day, this is going to be a tough campaign to win,” says Baumgartner. He’s pulled off upsets before: In 2010, he booted out incumbent Democrat Chris Marr from the Senate seat in Spokane’s 6th District.

The first-term senator has been campaigning since announcing his candidacy last September. He seems to have clinched the state nomination, having already out-raised fellow Republican candidate Arthur Coday.

“You feel like a bit of a typewriter,” he says of his campaign schedule, which takes him back and forth across the state.

Yet all measures of political success show Baumgartner lagging against the incumbent. A SurveyUSA poll released last month showed only 40 percent of registered voters backing Baumgartner. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed backed Cantwell.

“He hasn’t demonstrated he can raise much money. He hasn’t put together the kind of statewide campaign that was expected of a rival U.S. Senate candidate,” says Christian Sinderman, a Democratic consultant who is affiliated with the Cantwell campaign. “His campaign, from all outward appearances, is mostly focused on handing out water bottles at public sporting events.”

The forecast is worse for the senator in fundraising totals. Federal Election Commission filings show Baumgartner with $181,841 on hand, much of which was raised from donors in Spokane and Western Washington. Cantwell has $5,192,176; some of which is from donors in Washington, with the rest coming from as far away as North Carolina and Chicago.


While records show that Michael Baumgartner, Maria Cantwell and Arthur Coday are the only ones raising any money, there are several other candidates for this Senate seat:

Will Baker, Reform Party
Max Englerius, Independent
Thomas Mac Horne, Republican Party
Charlie Richard Jackson,
Republican Party
Mike The Mover, Republican Party
Glen R. Stockwell, Republican Party
Nancy L. Travis, Republican Party
Timmy Wilson, Democratic Party

“If the primary numbers look good, there’s going to be some more money coming in,” says Michael Cathcart, who heads up Baumgartner’s Spokane volunteer campaign. “A lot of Cantwell’s money comes from out of the state.”

Pushing a slogan of “Cantwell Can’t,” Baumgartner’s campaigning ranges from conventional sign-waving and campaign rallies to more unconventional fare. Last month, he posted a video on Twitter of the Hindenburg blimp going down in flames as a spoof of Cantwell’s fiscal policies.

The state senator’s talking points are his membership of the Legislature’s budget-focused Ways and Means Committee and his time working for the State Department, both of which he says give him the fiscal and international acumen to head to Congress.

But history seems to be against him. Washington hasn’t elected a senator from east of the Cascades since Lewis B. Schwellenbach in 1934.

“The Spokane press is really hung up on this geographic divide,” Baumgartner says when asked about the drought in statewide elected officials from the east. “I don’t think the voters of Washington state are geographic bigots. I think they’re going to vote on the issues of the day.”

Baumgartner has a visible presence on the west side, with his campaign headquarters based in Bellevue. He estimates he’s in Spokane two days out of 10.

“You’ve really got to reach out to the voters kind of in the urban areas like Seattle,” Cathcart says of Baumgartner’s west-side strategy.

Polls support that conclusion: SurveyUSA found Baumgartner getting 55 percent of the vote in Eastern Washington, but only 32 percent in Seattle.

“He answered the call of Republican Party and [ran] against Senator Cantwell, and that’s what he’s going to do,” Sinderman says. As for victory, Sinderman wasn’t so sure. “He’s not a gifted enough politician to pull that off.”

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About The Author

Chris Stein

Chris Stein is a staff writer at The Inlander. He covers social services, downtown Spokane, Eastern Washington and Spokane city hall. His work has been published by the Associated Press, VeloNews and the Santa Barbara Independent. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.