Eight names appear on the ballot in the U.S Senate race, but voters need only concern themselves with three.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, is vying for a third term, having first gained office in 2000 in a surprise victory over longtime Sen. Slade Gorton. In 2006, she swept away insurance executive Mike McGavick. She is generally liberal, but more moderate than her counterpart U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. Her prior experience as a high-tech executive infuses a business sense into much of her thinking.
Cantwell is the go-to senator on such issues as technology, clean energy and financial regulation. She voted against the Wall Street bailout and held out on the Dodd-Frank reform bill until regulations were added for derivatives trading. She has persistently battled for sales-tax deductibility for federal income tax filers, winning a number of reprieves that saved millions for state taxpayers. She is a leader in the Smart Grid movement, which aims to achieve greater energy efficiency, and she has pushed for more hydropower capacity.
Like all incumbents, she has failed to crack the partisan gridlock that has dragged Congress’ approval ratings into single digits. Nonetheless, she has earned a trip to the general election.
Two Republican candidates are battling for the second slot. State Sen. Michael Baumgartner is well-known to Spokane voters, having been elected in the 6th Legislative District in 2010. He raised eyebrows by announcing his bid for the U.S. Senate a mere two years later. Baumgartner is a bright legislator who has led on key issues, such as pension reform and the consolidation of state agencies.
Baumgartner is strongest when talking about foreign policy. He was a State Department officer in the Middle East and spent time in Afghanistan trying to get opium farmers to switch to wheat. Unlike most Republicans, he says the U.S. military should’ve already withdrawn, and he has criticized Cantwell for her votes on more military spending in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, he needs to affix more meat to his domestic policy bones. Too often his responses to questions rest on “pragmatic solutions” and “common sense.” He needs to provide more details. Baumgartner wants to repeal health care reform and introduce more market-oriented solutions. He deserves credit for resisting simplistic anti-tax pledges that limit options, and he has the courage to consider means-testing of entitlements to help control spending. So his door might be open to the kind of budget compromises Congress sorely needs.
Art Coday is a Lynnwood physician who dropped out of the U.S. Senate race in 2010 to run for the Legislature. He lost. His hard-right views would place him solidly within the tea party caucus. He wants to immediately whack federal spending by 30 percent and limit the reach of government agencies, such as the Department of Education.
Neither Republican can match the experience of the incumbent, but Baumgartner is by far the more thoughtful candidate. We’d like to see him advance to the general election, where the debate between him and Cantwell can continue.