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Originally published Friday, October 12, 2012 at 9:47 PM

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Baumgartner attacks Cantwell on Afghanistan in debate

The wide-ranging debate, an hourlong event at the KCTS studios in Seattle, touched on war, debt, climate change and immigration.

Seattle Times staff reporter

On the Web

Endorsement interview

The Seattle Times editorial-board event will be streamed live at 1 p.m. Thursday on seattletimes.com.
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Michael Baumgartner on Friday used the only debate of this year's U.S. Senate race to hammer incumbent Maria Cantwell for supporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Repeatedly returning to what has become his signature issue, the Republican and former diplomat said Cantwell has "consistently been in support of poorly planned wars that are bankrupting this country and putting a tremendous, tremendous strain on our troops."

The incumbent, a two-term Democrat heavily favored to win a third term, said she voted for tax increases on the wealthy to fund the wars and has pushed President Obama to withdraw troops faster than he has proposed.

She painted her opponent, a freshman state senator from Spokane, as aligned with the conservative tea party.

"This election is about if we're going to continue to move forward in job creation," she said, "or whether we're going to balance our budget on the backs of our seniors."

The wide-ranging debate, an hourlong event at the KCTS studios in Seattle, also touched on debt, climate change and immigration.

Baumgartner said he supports a balanced-budget amendment and the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles framework for reducing the deficit. Cantwell said that approach would hurt seniors; she vowed instead to get bailout money back from Wall Street and end subsidies for oil companies.

Cantwell said she believes humans are responsible for global warming, and the U.S. should reduce its reliance on oil and boost clean energy. Baumgartner said he isn't sure global warming is man-made, but regardless, the U.S. needs to focus on persuading China and India to also reduce greenhouse gases.

Cantwell said she supports the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here at a young age. Baumgartner said he could not support the bill until the federal government secures its borders and increases work-visa programs.

But on a variety of issues, including the budget, Syria and even Big Bird of "Sesame Street," Baumgartner shifted the conversation to Afghanistan.

Asked whether he supports maintaining funding for PBS, which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he'd cut, Baumgartner said he supports public television — then added that one of his favorite shows is "Frontline," pivoting to discuss the importance of the show's segments on Afghanistan for a public that he said has been shielded from the true impact of war.

"We need something to remind the American people that we still have 70,000 troops in the desert right now," said Baumgartner, who met his wife while working as a counternarcotics adviser in Afghanistan.

He has proposed pulling troops out immediately and implementing a temporary, one-penny-a-gallon gas tax to fund health care for veterans. Cantwell opposes that idea.

She dismissed Baumgartner's debate attacks, saying afterward that he ignored that she voted to pay for the war in Afghanistan by taxing the wealthy rather than running up debt.

"He hasn't done his homework," she said. "He doesn't have a plan for jobs and the economy, so he's trying to come up with something."

Baumgartner, who entered the debate as the clear underdog, closed with a broad attack on the incumbent's record.

"You have a very clear idea of what you're going to get from Senator Cantwell," he said. "If Senator Cantwell had the ability or willingness to do something remarkable, you would have seen it over the past 12 years."

Cantwell took 55.7 percent of the vote in the primary, while Baumgartner earned 30 percent. She had out-raised him by more than 10-to-1 in campaign contributions through mid-July, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Baumgartner has pushed for more debates, but the candidates have not agreed to any.

They are, however, scheduled to meet at a Seattle Times editorial-board endorsement interview at 1 p.m. Thursday. It will be streamed live at seattletimes.com.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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