In Tuesday’s primary elections, voters can pick a candidate for the state senate in Eastern Washington’s most competitive legislative district, but both choices are assured of winning a spot in November’s final showdown.
Even so, the race between Sen. Chris Marr and his GOP rival, Michael Baumgartner, in the 6th Legislative District has turned into one of the nastiest primaries in the region, with accusations of ignorance, mismanagement and carpetbagging dominating the debate.
This week, Marr supporters are questioning an anti-Marr mailer from the state Republican Party showing a picture of Marr’s face with a splotch of red on the side of his head. It talks about the state “drowning in red ink.” But some Democrats say the picture appears to show an act of violence against Marr.
“It looks like there’s a bullet hole in Chris Marr’s head,” Spokane County Democratic Chairwoman Amy Biviano said.
Marr said he doesn’t think the red blotch was meant to look like blood, and that he’s more concerned about what he calls half-truths and falsehoods on that and other campaign mailers voters are receiving in the final days before the primary.
Luke Esser, chairman of the state Republican Party, said any assertion that the red ink on the flier was meant to look like blood is “nonsense.”
“That is just an attempt to divert attention from Chris Marr’s record,” he said.
Baumgartner said his campaign was not consulted by the GOP on its mailers.
“I thought the imagery (of the red ink flier) distracted from the message, but I absolutely agree with the message that Chris Marr has spent recklessly,” Baumgartner said.
The state GOP sent at least two other anti-Marr mailers in the district. One criticizes Marr’s record on education, the other his support for health care reform.
Esser said the party will continue to be active in Baumgartner’s race.
“We are going to make sure there’s an even playing field,” he said.
Marr said that if he had such a bad record on education, he wouldn’t have been named legislator of the year by the Washington Education Association or have the backing of the League of Education Voters.
He said other materials are trying to confuse voters into thinking he voted for the candy, soda and other taxes approved by the Legislature this year. Unlike most of his Democratic colleagues, Marr voted against those taxes.
Meanwhile, Baumgartner is taking aim at Marr’s fundraising. In a radio ad, Baumgartner’s campaign says Marr can’t stand by claims that he’s independent when Marr has raised so much from business, energy, insurance and other interests. Marr has raised $308,000 – more than all but one legislative candidate so far this year.
Asked if he is beholden to special interests because he’s raised $136,000 so far, Baumgartner said the issue is quantity. “One drink before dinner is probably just fine. Eight drinks before dinner and someone probably has an issue,” he said.
Marr said it’s hypocritical for Baumgartner to criticize him for successful fundraising when many of his contributors donate more often to Republicans. He said his diverse group of support shows his independence.
“They know I’m willing to hear them out,” Marr said. “They see me as a voice of reason within my caucus.”
Marr responded with a flier taking aim at Baumgartner’s recent move into the district. Baumgartner, who moved to Spokane in January, spent much of his life in Pullman, where his father was a professor at Washington State University. He spent two years in Spokane in the early 1990s when he attended Gonzaga Prep.
While Baumgartner is new to the 6th District, some high-profile Democrats have exaggerated the residency issue.
In June, Don Barbieri, chairman of Red Lion Hotels Corp. and former Democratic nominee for Congress, wrote in a letter published in The Spokesman-Review that Baumgartner until recently lived in Florida. Democratic officials provided an address for Baumgartner in suburban Orlando. But other records indicate that the Florida address belonged to a Michael S. Baumgartner, not the candidate, Michael J. Baumgartner.