GOP Backs Off Prisoner as Wash. Candidate

Republican leaders in Washington state were happy to have a contender for state auditor when they accepted Will Baker's (search) last-minute offer to challenge a popular Democrat.

They didn't worry too much about who he was or how he spent his time — until they realized a considerable amount of his time was spent in jail.

Now party leaders are scrambling to remove him from the ballot, days after naming him as the Republican choice to oppose Democratic incumbent Brian Sonntag's (search) bid for a fourth term.

"We didn't check him out," state GOP chairman Chris Vance said. "If I could, I would withdraw the letter putting him on the ballot as the Republican candidate — but it's too late."

On Friday, state election officials denied the party's request to remove Baker from the ballot, saying that would require court action.

Baker, a 41-year-old roadside flower salesman and self-styled political activist, has been arrested at least 19 times since 1992, mostly for refusing to stop speaking at Tacoma City Council (search) and Pierce County Council meetings. He was last released from jail less than two months ago.

Baker declined to be interviewed by the Tacoma News Tribune, but when asked about his candidacy he said, "No one's asked me to withdraw."

When no Republican candidate emerged for the state office by the July 30 deadline, Vance said Baker called GOP leaders and volunteered.

In haste, the party accepted Baker's offer without thoroughly examining his background.

"He told us that he was a conservative activist," Vance said. "We did just a minimal amount of checking."