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Maria Cantwell vs. Michael Baumgartner for U.S. Senate.

The race between Democratic U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and her Republican challenger State Senator Michael Baumgartner is not getting a lot of national attention. Political watchers say Baumgartner is a respected, credible candidate. Despite this, polls are predicting Cantwell will have a very easy path to victory.

Credit Fiends of Maria Cantwell
Fiends of Maria Cantwell

Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell who is running for her 3rd term in the U.S. Senate has the advantage of being an incumbent. Polls and surveys show that people hate congress, but Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University, says when it comes to their own representative, voters tend to really like their incumbent.

"They know the incumbent, they haven't heard anything bad about theincumbent. They've only heard positive things. That gets voterscrossing party lines. You have Democrats voting for Republicans andRepublicans voting for Democrats."

In her political ads, Cantwell is reminding voters that she helped Boeing win a lucrative contract with the US Airforce. Boeing projects it will bring 11-thousand jobs to the Northwest.


In her 12-years in office, Cantwell, who is 53-years old, has earned the reputation for being a workhorse who is happy to tackle complicated legislation dealing with campaign finance reform, and regulating the banking industry. She’s been in political office since she was 28-years old when she was a state representative. She also worked in the tech field for Real Networks, a job that made her a multimillionaire, a job she touted in this political ad when she successfully ran against US Senator Slade Gorton in 2000.

"I've spent five years building a high tech company. But what you doon your computer should be your business and no one else's."

Republican challenger Michael Baumgartner represents the 6th district in Eastern Washington, which includes parts of Spokane.

Credit Elect Michael Baumgartner for U.S. Senate
Elect Michael Baumgartner for U.S. Senate

He’s been in Olympia for two years. He’s 36-years old, a Harvard graduate and during the Iraq war he worked at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as an economic advisor. In Afghanistan he worked with US soldiers to help convince farmers to grow wheat instead of poppies for opium. In the one and only debate between the two candidates, Baumgartner criticizes Cantwell for supporting President Obama’s plan to keep US troops in Afghanistan until 2014.

"Our interest in Afghanistan is not trying to build a democracy. Our business there is to deny training space to transnational terrorists. We could do that by ending the war now. Bringing the troops home and treating the situation like we treat Somalia and Yemen."

When it comes to other issues, Cantwell opposes legalizing marijuana in Washington State. Baumgartner supports it. For same sex unions, Cantwell says 'yes' to that, Baumgartner is a 'no.' As far as abortion goes, Cantwell is pro choice. Baumgartner is against abortion even in the case of rape. Yet he says he is not interested in putting time and effort into changing abortion laws.


When you review the candidate endorsements from newspaper editorial boards from across the state, they are leaning heavily in favor of Cantwell, but they also offer high praise for Baumgartner. So why is Cantwell 15 to 20 percentage points ahead in the polls? Well it’s not just that she is an incumbent. Political science professor Todd Donovan says she’s also sitting on an 11-million-dollar war chest.

"She is a fundraising machine. You look six years and the amount of money she raised. It didn’t just help her win and get 58-percent of the vote, it scared off the potential for anybody to challenge her."

She is throwing her fundraising skills behind state Democratic Candidates such as Secretary of State nominee Kathleen Drew, and Attorney General candidate Bob Ferguson. Ironically Michael Baumgartner was in Cantwell’s position back in 2010.  With the Republican party's support he ran one of the most expensive campaigns for state office in Washington’s history. Back then Republican party leaders saw that race as one they could win. 

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.