Chris Widener: no worries, no waste
February 25, 2010
By Dan Catchpole
Mount Si graduate seeks GOP nomination for U.S. Senate race as fiscal conservative
NEW — 9:55 a.m. Feb. 25, 2010
Chris Widener has two messages in his bid for the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Murray in November: no worries, no waste.
The Preston businessman and Mount Si graduate is not worried about the obstacles facing him – the crowded field for the nomination, a potential late-entry by Dino Rossi, Murray’s vast fundraising ability. He is focused on one central message: federal spending has to be reeled in.
Widener’s hoping frustrated independent voters will help him unseat three-time incumbent Murray. He points to newly-elected Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts over Democratic candidate Martha Coakley as evidence.
In appearances across Washington state, Widener has emphasized a fiscal conservative message and attacked Murray’s role in “in the federal government’s runaway spending and spiraling budget deficits.” He’s stayed away from social conservative issues.
The federal public debt is unsustainable and must be reduced, he said.
Widener is non-partisan in who he sees as responsible for running up the federal debt. “Some of the worst earmarkers are Republicans,” he said.
The federal debt is expected to reach $9.8 trillion, or 67 percent of the gross domestic product, in 2010, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
Public plus private-held debt is estimated to reach nearly $14.5 trillion, or 98 percent of GDP, this year, according to the CBO.
A crowded field for primary election
Widener’s pushing that message in a crowded field, with several competitors vying for the GOP nomination, including State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver; Sean Salazar, a Mountlake Terrace chiropractor; Clint Didier, a former professional football player from Pasco; Craig Williams, an energy trader and Realtor from Vancouver; Arthur Coday Jr., a physician from Shoreline; and Rod Rieger, owner of a security systems company in Marysville.
With no big names in the race, it still remains wide open.
That could change if two-time Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi enters the race. He is the only Republican to post close numbers against Murray in a Rasmussen Reports poll of potential races in November released Feb. 15. In the conservative-leaning polling company’s telephone survey of likely voters in Washington, Rossi leads Murray 48 percent to 46 percent, with 5 percent of voters “not sure” of who’d they vote for and 1 percent supporting another candidate.
In the same report Widener trailed Murray 48 percent to 33 percent.
An earlier survey by Bob Moore, a leading Republican pollster in the Northwest, showed Rossi leading Murray by 45 percent to 43 percent. Moore worked in Rossi’s gubernatorial campaigns.
“It he does enter the race, we’ll cross that bridge when it happens,” said Widener.
He has an edge over competitors already in the race. He won a straw poll at the Roanoke Conference, a Republican gathering in January, with about 40 percent, according to a news release. He beat out Didier with 27 percent, followed by Coday (18 percent) and Salazar (15 percent).
To win the nomination, Widener said, he is building a network of supporters, has assembled an experienced campaign team and needs to raise money. And must get his message out.
A natural speaker
Talking isn’t a problem for the businessman and motivational speaker.
“My teachers at Mount Si will tell you that I talked too much,” said Widener, who graduated in 1984.
Widener wrote a popular motivational book, titled “The Angel Inside.” He also founded Positively Republican, touted as the largest GOP group on Facebook, with more than 162,000 members nationwide. He is drawing on those connections to help build a network of supporters and contributors for his campaign.
Some state politicians have already endorsed Widener, including King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, and State Representatives Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, and Jay Rodne, R-North Bend.
“Voters nationwide have expressed a hunger to be heard and to see their values reflected in federal legislation. They want reduced spending at the federal level and government brought back to the local level,” Lambert said in a statement.
Widener’s campaign team includes some big names, including his chief fundraiser Bruce Boram, a Seattle-based political consultant who served on two campaigns for U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.
His involvement could become a liability for Widener, who is pledging to run a positive campaign.
Boram resigned as Reichert’s chief campaign strategist in 2004 after it became public that he had directed a group that paid for a series of negative television attack ads against Democratic candidate for Attorney General Deborah Senn. The state’s Public Disclosure Commission accused Boram of campaign violations when he refused to disclose the group’s donors. He complied after the matter was passed onto the Attorney General’s office.
Regardless, Boram has been an effective fundraiser, something that will be important for Widener, who has to separate himself from the crowded field in the Republican primary election in September.
Taking on Murray’s well-funded campaign
If Widener wins the nomination, he’ll face a well-funded Murray.
“Certainly she’ll have more money than me. All I can do is get out and talk about what I believe in,” Widener said.
He plans to harness social media to increase the impact of his campaign spending. He already has a text update system in place.
Riding an independent wave
Widener plans to ride what he said is increasing frustration with federal spending among independent and moderate voters.
Brown’s recent election in Massachusetts is evidence of this frustration, Widener said.
However, Murray is not Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Brown’s Democratic opponent, who drew heat for two big campaign gaffes.
Coakley and Brown were running for an open seat — the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat. Murray is a three-time incumbent who has beaten three Republican U.S. House members.
Instead, Murray, who holds the No. 4 spot in the Senate leadership, has in recent weeks taken steps that will win support with independent voters, such as grilling Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on job creation at a committee hearing.
Even so, Murray is vulnerable on her record of supporting federal spending, Widener said.
“The only thing Patty has to run on is her ability to bring home money. If we were in the black, that would be great, but we’re not,” he said.
Two years ago, spending probably would not have been an issue for her, he said, but with the country slowly climbing out of Great Recession, it is this year.
“That money that she gives us is our money,” he said.
Cutting federal spending
Widener has not identified specific items to cut from the federal budget, but promises voters he will put his fiscal conservative philosophy to work if elected. On many issues, he said, the government has overregulated markets and needs to back reined in.
“Every budget in the federal government could be slashed,” he said.
One area he said he would look closely at is federal money paid out through FEMA to programs that support people living in high-risk areas, such as the national flood insurance program.
Keeping up with Widener
Text update system
- Join by sending the text “Chris” to 77007.
Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or firstname.lastname@example.org.