Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

28 hopefuls chase Cantwell in U.S. Senate primary

The U.S. Capitol building, seen Jan. 21, 2018 as night falls in Washington. (J. David Ake / AP)

No political campaign can offer a candidate for every voter’s political philosophy or persuasion, but this year’s U.S. Senate race in Washington may come closer than any other.

Twenty-nine candidates. Five Democrats, including the three-term incumbent Maria Cantwell. Twelve Republicans, including the former state party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison, some perennial candidates, an array of political novices vying to be the most supportive of President Donald Trump, and a Californian running in seven other states.

A Libertarian. A Green Party member. Several candidates who made up their own party, including one who sums up his feelings with a website address that is

Five independents whose issues range from universal health care to taxing all income above $2 million until the national debt is paid off to turning off the nuclear reactor at Hanford.

Although a 29-way split in votes theoretically gives any candidate a mathematical shot at one of the two spots in the general election, history argues against that math. No independent or third-party candidate has reached the November ballot for statewide office from a primary that included at least one member of each major party.

The top two primary system sometimes sends two Republicans or two Democrats to the general election. For Democrats challenging Cantwell, their only hope may be that the GOP vote is so fractured that they can finish ahead of the rest of the field. To do that, each has to hope that he can peel off a large enough chunk of Democrats by appealing to voters to the right or left of the incumbent.

Chasing Cantwell

Cantwell clearly has the edge in name recognition after running and winning three statewide races since 2000. She also has raised more than $8.5 million in campaign contributions with support from business and labor unions across the state and the country.

She serves on the Commerce, Energy, Finance, Indian Affairs and Small Business committees; she’s been a strong proponent of abortion rights, net neutrality and expanded foreign trade. She’s regularly called for investigations of price gouging by the oil industry and energy companies.

Running to her left, Seattle businessman Clint Tannehill is calling for a single-payer health care system. Seattle civic activist Don Rivers wants a carbon “price” that will encourage polluters to reduce greenhouse gases. Ephrata physician Mohammad Said wants a nonreligious state in Palestine and a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. Running to her right is Seattle economic analyst George Kalberer, who wants to “kick ass” in North Korea and China by firing enough cruise missiles to destroy their militaries.

Most independents are also running to the left of Cantwell, including Jennifer “Gigi” Ferguson of Tacoma. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat two years ago when she was also a Bernie Sanders delegate and now lists herself as an independent on the ballot and a “Berniecrat” on her website.

Republicans race for recognition

Among the crowded Republican field, Hutchison was the last candidate to enter the race but probably the best known to GOP stalwarts from five years as the head of the state party. She has the best overall name recognition in vote-rich Western Washington of any challenger from 20 years on television news in Seattle and years of service on various boards and charities.

She’s critical of Cantwell for voting against the Trump tax cuts, policies and appointees, but she hedges her bet in a state that went for Hillary Clinton by 16 percentage points and gives the president generally low approval ratings. “When President Trump is good for Washington state, I’ll support him. When he’s not, I can talk to him,” she says.

One of the first Republicans to enter the race was Joey Gibson, the Vancouver leader of the Patriot Prayer group, which has staged what he terms free speech rallies around the Northwest and California. Some of those meetings have sparked confrontations between white supremacists and anti-fascists, although a Gibson rally in Spokane Valley in March was peaceful with a counterprotest in downtown Spokane.

He is a popular speaker at gun-rights rallies, opposes abortion and gun-free zones, favors term limits and says big corporations have too much say in government.

Although current or former elected officials are conspicuously absent in the GOP field, Gibson is among several candidates who see their lack of political experience as a plus or at least don’t worry it’s a minus. Matthew Heines, a former paratrooper from Redmond, calls himself a reform-minded Republican who doesn’t trust anyone who goes to Washington. Somewhat out of the mainstream for a Republican, he’d stop government borrowing, make public universities free and pay for the tuition with profits from legal marijuana.

Tim Owen, of Mukilteo, lists his electoral experience as being president of his high school senior class.

From the precinct to Congress?

Keith Swank, a Seattle police commander, cites his election as a union official and precinct officer. Dave Bryant is a precinct officer and was a delegate to the 2012 state GOP convention, but he’s more likely to mention he was a captain on an aircraft carrier.

Matt Hawkins, a Spokane Valley businessman whose electoral experience also stops at precinct committee officer, complains about the country being polarized and calls for more conversations about freedoms, family and faith.

Along with being a precinct officer, Art Coday lists himself as “a top competitor” who finished third in the 2012 primary against Cantwell. Not mentioned: that second-place finisher Mike Baumgartner got 30 percent of the vote and he got less than 6 percent.

Perennial candidate Glen Stockwell is running on a promise to accept only $1 in salary per year and vote with Trump “100 percent of the time.” Perennial candidate GoodSpaceGuy – name legally changed from Michael Nelson – admits he’s lost 18 times but continues to push to colonize space with small habitats orbiting what he calls “spaceship Earth.” Both have run as Democrats or third party candidates in the past.

Perhaps the most unusual candidate in the field is Rocky De La Fuente. He has a run for president under his belt, albeit an unsuccessful one in which he started as a Democrat, formed his own American Delta Party when that didn’t work and later accepted the nomination of the Reform Party. This year he filed as a Republican for a Senate seat in Washington, his home state of California and six other states. Under the U.S. Constitution, a senator need only be an inhabitant of a state when taking office, not when running, although De La Fuente is apparently the first out-of-stater to run for Washington’s Senate seat.

He lost the California primary, collecting only 2 percent of the vote, and Washington will be his second shot. If that doesn’t work out, he’s also on the ballot in Hawaii, Minnesota, Vermont, Wyoming and Florida later in August and Delaware in September.