After less than a year in the state Senate, Michael Baumgartner plans to run for the other Senate in the other Washington by entering the race against Democrat Maria Cantwell.
Baumgartner, a Republican who won the most expensive legislative race in state history last year in Spokane’s 6th District, told a Seattle television station he will announce his campaign against Cantwell next week.
The former State Department officer has been rumored for weeks to be considering the race, but said as recently as Wednesday he planned to take the weekend to talk with family before making a decision. But in an interview with KING-TV taped Friday for that station’s weekly news magazine, he says he’ll run.
That would make him the first Republican to announce a campaign against two-term incumbent Cantwell, who easily defeated Seattle businessman Mike McGavick in 2006 by about 350,000 votes. A former legislator and one-term U.S. representative, Cantwell was first elected to the Senate in 2000, defeating Republican Slade Gorton in a close race.
Baumgartner said earlier this week that if he runs, one of his main issues will be foreign policy and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He served in both countries while in the State Department and currently lectures on the Middle East.
Democrats appear poised to label Baumgartner as an opportunist who is using his election to the Legislature as a stepping stone to higher office. During a campaign appearance last year, he denied opponent Chris Marr’s contention that he’d use the Senate seat that way, arguing Marr was projecting his own ambitions.
Although there is more than a year before the 2012 election, part of Baumgartner’s time during that period is spoken for. As a legislator, he faces a special session on the state’s budget problems that starts Nov. 28, and a regular, 60-day session that starts in January.
Earlier, when Baumgartner said he was considering the race, he said he wouldn’t give up his state Senate seat, but instead would cut back on outside employment.
As a candidate just entering the race, Baumgartner immediately faces several obstacles. One is money. Cantwell had raised $2.7 million as of July 1, the last date federal candidates were required to report, even though she had no announced opponent.
Another is name recognition. As a freshman legislator from one of 49 districts, Baumgartner is relatively unknown and will need to spend money to become familiar to the state’s voters.
The third is geography. About 75 percent of the state’s voters live in Western Washington, where Baumgartner is an unknown quantity. No candidate from Eastern Washington has won a U.S. Senate seat since C.C. Dill in 1928. George Nethercutt, a Congressman who’d served five terms in the House after defeating Speaker Tom Foley, was the last to try. He lost to Democrat Patty Murray in 2004.