UNLIKE OTHER guests at Tom Stewart's Republican Party picnic, US Senate candidate Chris Bayley came away with more than a full stomach and a sunburn.
After creaming his primary rival, US Rep. Linda Smith, 1,473 to 422, in the August 22 event's straw poll, an exultant Bayley proclaimed, "This is truly the campaign of momentum." And he might indeed be considered the frontrunner, if elections officials would only adopt the straw poll's system for the September 15 primary: letting passers-by drop dollar bills into barrels labeled with the candidates' names.
The Smith/Bayley battle for the right to face Democratic incumbent Patty Murray in November might well be dubbed the campaign of mixed signals. A recent poll claims that Bayley's deluge of television commercials has trimmed Smith's lead to a single percentage point, but an earlier survey of potential Republican primary voters saw Smith leading by a 3-to-1 margin. "This thing's a statistical dead heat," says Bayley campaign coordinator Jason Miller.
Smith supporters seem convinced that Bayley's mild criticisms of their candidate in his television commercials constitute dirty campaigning; political insiders argue the little-known former King County prosecutor has flubbed by not hitting Smith harder. "Our poll, their poll," sighs Smith campaign spokesperson Erik Lokkesmoe. "The polls don't really matter until September 15."
On the surface, the low-key corporate lawyer Bayley seems like the perfect political contrast to the fiery populist Smith. He's a favorite of party leaders, a former officeholder who has been equally successful in the private sector. She's a combative reformer who rode a statewide spending limit initiative (I-601) to the US House of Representatives through a stunning primary victory as a write-in candidate. But "Linda's Army" (as her devoted followers are known) must overcome "Bayley's Bucks" to take on Murray. Bayley just dropped $500,000 of his own money into his campaign coffers. And his improving poll numbers could boost his donations from outside (already more than $1 million), although Smith is readying a major television buy of her own. The two are also planning a pair of major pre-primary debates.
Still, with record-low primary turnouts the rule this season, the numbers would seem to favor Smith over the more obscure Bayley. And Bayley's campaign has been less than sparkling. Even as he criticizes Smith's emphasis on campaign finance reform as a fixation that hasn't caught on with voters, he's built his campaign around an even duller issue: international trade. He supports all the recent trade initiatives (NAFTA, GATT, fast-track authority, MFN status for China), all of which Smith has opposed. "That is the big issue in the primary," says Bayley, who notes that one in four Washington jobs depend on international trade. However, his trade stands don't do much to distinguish him from Murray, who has supported Clinton's free-trade agenda. What's more, Smith's trade positions help her appeal to the many voters on right and left disenchanted with trade policy.
"There are other issues in the final," Bayley adds; against Murray, he would stress his support for taking $40 billion a year from the US Department of Education and giving it directly to local schools; tax reforms (a flatter income tax, a simplified code, and elimination of the inheritance tax); and strengthening national defense. He supports a national missile defense system; Murray has voted to delay the project.
How far will these issues take Bayley? Good thing he's got all that TV advertising. "International trade" isn't an issue to rouse primary voters from their August slumber, and national defense's value as a political barn burner fell with the Berlin Wall. Even Bayley's gentle TV gibe at Smith's vote against IRS reform has backfired. Smith says she supported the IRS bill, but voted against the final version due to a last-minute rider that would deny health benefits to veterans who smoke. She has since formed "Veterans for Linda Smith," gathered kudos from veterans groups, and appeared with Adrian Cronauer, the Armed Forces Radio DJ portrayed by Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam.
As a big-time politician, Bayley is hampered by his personal style. He is by all accounts a low-key, steady executive glad to work behind the scenes—the quintessential "cool" candidate, a major disadvantage against a firebrand like Smith. Their speeches at the picnic highlighted the contrast. The plaid-shirted Bayley proved a good public speaker, but audience attention sagged when he tried to switch from his call to "retire Patty Murray" to a review of issues. Smith had better jokes, wicked digs at President Bill Clinton, and a stirring tribute to those veterans and their imperiled health benefits. Bayley's scorn for the campaign-reform issue notwithstanding, political reporters have been absolutely enthralled by Smith's daring tactic of refusing to accept money from political action committees. He supports a more mainstream Republican campaign finance line—raise contribution limits and require full and instant disclosure.
But is a primary campaign any place for Bayley's dull but sensible positions? Seattle political consultant Don McDonough doesn't think so. "Bayley just has not made the case why Linda Smith should not be the nominee," he states. "He has, I think, treated her very, very gently." Instead of directly attacking Smith for her unpopularity with Republican leaders and ineffectiveness in passing legislation, Bayley's commercials have played it safe, working mostly on building his name recognition. "He had to make Linda seem like a dangerous choice for Republicans and he's fallen far short of doing that," says McDonough. Cathy Allen, another local political consultant, likes Bayley's television spots, but says the candidate has failed to build on the momentum he received from his successful early fund-raising efforts. "I'm looking for the energy here," she says.
Bayley backers like to point out that their candidate has won a contested primary before, back in 1970 against incumbent King County Prosecutor Charles O. Carroll. But that's hardly the whole story. Although never implicated in the early-1970s Seattle Police scandals, Carroll got raked by the media and his opponents (Bayley and two Democratic) for not intervening. Against a backdrop of a federal grand jury investigation of SPD corruption, Carroll all but conceded the race, skipping debates and keeping his campaign number unlisted. Democrats crossed over in droves to vote for Bayley, who got more votes than Carroll and the top Democrat, Ed Heavey, combined.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation; Bayley barely squeaked by Heavey in November. Four years later, when Heavey again challenged him, Bayley won comfortably.
As prosecutor, Bayley won praise for bringing the office into the modern era, bringing in new blood, and adding women and minority deputies. "He really brought a breath of fresh air to county government," says current Prosecutor Norm Maleng, who served as chief of Bayley's Civil Division. After eight years in the prosecutor's office, Bayley stepped down and Maleng won election as his successor. Maleng says Bayley, a former deputy state attorney general, considered continuing in politics, but wanted to make a career for himself in the private sector, which he certainly did. He served three years as a partner at Perkins Coie, where he founded the law firm's lucrative public finance practice. Bayley worked 10 years for Burlington Resources (a subsidiary of Burlington Northern) and was president of Glacier Park, the railroad company's real estate division. He was a partner in an international banking business and worked most recently as a business consultant.
Supporters say the Harvard-educated Bayley would fit in well in Washington, DC, and be a capital power player by his second term. "I think that what you will see is what you saw before," says Maleng. "He will attract young, bright, talented people who will be excited about public service." Boosters even invoke the magic names of "Scoop" and "Maggie"—Washington's former Senate team of Henry Jackson and Warren Magnuson—to describe how a seasoned Sen. Bayley could serve state interests. But a lot has changed while Bayley has spent 20 years as a political Rip Van Winkle. Republican hopefuls now talk about slashing budgets, not bringing home the pork. With Democrats and Republican parties now edging ever farther from each other, and the GOP split into conservatives and ultraconservatives, Bayley the onetime "progressive" seeks a new niche as a "Reagan Republican." In such times, a candidate naturally drawn to the political center risks getting stranded in the middle.