WASHINGTON — Michael Baumgarter is trailing U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell at the polls and in the money race.
So the freshman Republican state senator is resorting to a favored campaign tactic of underdogs: he’s accusing Cantwell of ignoring him.
Baumgartner says Cantwell backed out of a joint endorsement interview with the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin scheduled for Friday.
Cantwell, a Democrat who is running for third term, last week agreed to appear with Baumgartner, only to back out Thursday, according to Baumgartner spokeswoman Jami Herring.
According to Herring, Union-Bulletin Editorial Page Editor Rick Eskil said Cantwell’s staff explained that she was making a public appearance in Pasco Friday on official Senate business. Under election rules, she could not mix in campaign events on the same day.
“It’s not a rule I’ve heard of,” Herring said.
Eskil, however, said Cantwell never agreed to meet the editorial board with Baumgartner. Instead, her office contacted Eskil in July to schedule an interview to discuss national issues ahead of November elections. Eskil then invited Baumgartner to join in, turning the editorial board meeting into a mini debate.
Cantwell’s campaign didn’t realize that until it contacted Eskil Thursday to confirm the date, said Rose Kapolczynski, Cantwell’s campaign consultant.
“It was a misunderstanding,” Eskil said.
Kapolczynski said no rules prohibit candidates from holding campaign- and office-related events on the same day. She said Herring is mistaken in saying that’s what Cantwell’s office told the Union-Bulletin.
Herring, however, contends the episode shows Cantwell is counting on coasting to victory without engaging Baumgartner face to face. Baumgartner has agreed to four debates, including with KCTS-TV, but Cantwell has not yet accepted any.
Kapolzynski said Cantwell “will debate Baumgartner in the fall,” but did not specify how many. Kapolczynski said Cantwell didn’t want to conduct the joint interview with Baumgartner because she wants to debate him in the open before voters.
Cantwell appears virtually assured of re-election. She has 55.3 percent of votes counted so far in Tuesday’s primary election, compared to Baumgartner’s 30.6 percent.
That was a bigger margin than during her 2006 primary race against Republican Mike McGavick. Cantwell went on to trounce McGavick 56.8 percent to 39.9 percent that November.