Originally published Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 4:14 PM

Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

Meet Michael Baumgartner, the 'pragmatic conservative' who plans to challenge Cantwell

Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey profiles state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, a Republican who is running against Sen. Maria Cantwell in 2012.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

quotes As a long time resident of the 6th district I'm hoping he is a one term senator. In Oly... Read more
quotes Whatever his motive, Mr. Baumgartner is correct that we should put foreign democracy... Read more
quotes After the election he can hang out with McGavick and Rossi. Read more

Who will be on the ballot against Sen. Maria Cantwell a year from now? Maybe Michael Baumgartner.

Haven't heard of him? He's from Spokane. He's not quite 36, one of four new Republican state senators elected in 2010. He stands out for several things. One is his victory a year ago over the incumbent, Chris Marr, in the most expensive such race in state history. It was big news in Spokane.

"People said, 'You've been away. Nobody knows you,' " Baumgartner recalls. He had been away, and Marr tagged him as a carpetbagger.

Baumgartner grew up in Pullman. His father was a professor of forestry at Washington State University and his mother was a kindergarten teacher.

He has lived an international life. In his school years, Baumgartner studied during summers in Jordan, Syria and Kuwait. At WSU, his economics degree was earned after a year in France. After graduation, he did a year with the Jesuits in Mozambique.

While working on his master's in public administration at Harvard, he had projects in Malaysia and Nepal. After graduation, he worked in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

In 2007, he signed on with the State Department in Iraq, and after a year of that he worked for a contractor in an anti-opium program in Afghanistan.

In Helmand province he met the woman he married. She's British.

Some Republicans are proud of their insularity. Not this man.

He calls himself a "pragmatic conservative" in the mold of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. That would make Baumgartner a budget cutter, the Republican standard just now. His foreign-policy views are not standard.

Mitt Romney wants to expand military spending. Baumgartner does not.

"We have an overstretched military we're spending too much money on," he says. Afghanistan is costing $12 billion a month.

Here are some of his thoughts:

• America should focus on its interests and put democracy-building "on the shelf." Moderate Islam will have to defeat radical Islam.

• Congress should have greater control over the decision to go to war. President Obama's Libyan adventure, Baumgartner says, was not justified by U.S. strategic interests.

• Military forces should not be committed without realistic plans, and an exit strategy, devised by people who know the country. Bush failed in that, and so did Obama when he thought a surge would work out the same in Afghanistan as in Iraq.

• Private contractors should be reined in. "We've outsourced the war effort to private profit-making corporations," he says. "We shouldn't have people under arms who are not U.S. government."

Baumgartner pauses. "Does that make me not a typical Republican?"

Not typical. But the parties change, and it is the young who change them.

Baumgartner is young for the U.S. Senate, and his political résumé is thin. So was Sen. Patty Murray's 20 years ago. She had been a state senator for one term — but she ran at the right time and ran well

The Republicans' last candidate for U.S. Senate, in 2010, was Dino Rossi, who had run for governor twice before. His heart was not in it; he played coy until the last minute, waiting for the money men to fill his tub with dollars. Baumgartner announced early.

"He's got fire in the belly, which counts for a lot," says Kirby Wilbur, the state party chairman.

Money also counts. Baumgartner figures he'll need $6 million to $10 million.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is


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