Washington State Republicans are being treated to a welcome bit of news this week. To date, the Republican Party’s search for a high-value candidate to run against incumbent U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell in 2012 has come up empty, to the point that some have despaired of ever finding a suitable entrant. Others have resigned themselves to the idea of giving Maria a pass, suggesting that the lack of a contested Senate race might avert the specter of out-of-state DNC money hurting the chances of other Republicans running for state-wide offices.
But in Sunday’s Everett Herald came the rumor that State Senator Michael Baumgartner is considering entering the 2012 Senate race against Maria Cantwell. It now appears that it is more than a rumor, with an exploratory committee perhaps in the works.
Despite his relative youth (Baumgartner is 35) he already has compiled a resume that is diverse, international and impressive. A WSU economics grad who grew up in Pullman and Spokane, he holds a Masters in Public Administration in International Development from Harvard University and has been to more than 70 countries and worked extensively in both the private and public sector.
He has taught economics both as a volunteer in Mozambique after WSU, and as a Teaching Fellow in Economics at Harvard. Baumgartner is extremely knowledgeable about the Middle East, having served as an Economics Officer with the US State Department during the Iraq Surge, later worked as an embedded advisor to an Afghan Government counter-narcotic team helping farmers to grow wheat instead of opium, and he is frequently asked to advise senior members of the US military on the economics of counterinsurgency.
The Boston Globe dubbed Michael the “Architect of Hope” for his role in the Iraq Surge and those who have had heard Michael speak on his experiences working on the ground in Afghanistan trying to assist a feudal, tribal narco-state develop a modern economy know that this is not a man who finds our current fiscal difficulties particularly daunting. Michael has also displayed a natural talent at campaigning, winning the most expensive legislative race in Washington history by 7.5% against an extremely well-funded incumbent in his first run for office in 2010.
Baumgartner made the most of his first session in Olympia, serving as the Ranking Republican on the Economic Development Committee, and as a member of the Ways and Means and Higher Education Committees. Focusing on jobs, the budget and education sounds like a pretty good preparation for addressing the highest priorities of today’s voters. As a result of Republican gains in 2010, Democrats in the State Senate found it necessary to include the Republican minority in many negotiations; so despite being a freshman, Baumgartner had the opportunity to have real influence on the budget as well as passage of key reform bills. He helped shape the bi-partisan state budget, and his bill to reform state government and allow more contracting of non-essential services was called the most significant reform of Washington government in the last 20 years by Gov. Christine Gregoire when she signed it into law.
While some might believe a few more years experience in Olympia might benefit Baumgartner, it’s important to keep in mind that he already has more legislative experience than 11 of the 13 Republican candidates in our last Senate contest in 2010. This may end up more a feature than a bug; considering the current ratings of Congress, 2012 might well prove to be even more anti-government and anti-incumbent than was 2010.
Taking the Senate seat from two-term incumbent Maria Cantwell will be no easy task. But Baumgartner’s entrance into the race adds an element that has been sadly absent from Washington State contests in recent years: Excitement. Michael Baumgartner is exactly the type of extraordinary young candidate that has the potential to capture the imagination of voters, in the manner of a Scott Brown or Marco Rubio. Principled/Pragmatic Conservative, WSU, Harvard, Volunteer with children in Africa, State Department Diplomat, Iraq/Afghanistan, major government reform and a bi-partisan approach to fiscal responsibility – Baumgartner might be just what it takes for the Republicans to finally retake a U.S. Senate seat in Washington State.