RIDGEFIELD, Wash. — Amid the corn dog stands, bumper cars and llama enclosures at the Clark County Fair in early August, Democratic candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez looked for signs of hope for her congressional campaign this fall.
For much of the year, media buzz and big money in the 3rd Congressional District swirled around U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler and his Donald Trump-endorsed challenger Joe Kent. That contest was settled in the Aug. 2 primary, with Republicans pitching Herrera Beutler for her vote to impeach Trump.
Now the relatively unknown Gluesenkamp Perez will appear in the November ballot against Kent, a Green Berets fight veteran who has garnered national attention and plenty of Fox News airtime as a premier flag bearer. plan for the pro-Trump “America First” movement.
At the fair, most passers-by seemed to be hearing about Gluesenkamp Perez for the first time, or were only dimly aware of the impending confrontation. But while chatting with a pair of Shriners beside a fish and chip stand, she found a convert in Kent Stradley.
Stradley, a 79-year-old retired truck driver who considers himself a political independent, said he voted for Herrera Beutler in the primary. But he will support Gluesenkamp Perez this fall. He agreed with Herrera Beutler’s vote to impeach Trump. “They never should have left that guy there,” he said.
Gluesenkamp Perez’s chances – and she starts the race as a serious underdog – will depend, in part, on how many Herrera Beutler supporters like Stradley have.
To stand a chance, she will also need a boost in turnout from Democrats who may be fuming to defeat Kent, Trump’s most high-profile backer in the state, who has echoed the ex’s lies. -president on the 2020 elections.
Campaigning in the Republican-leaning district, Gluesenkamp Perez, 34, emphasizes her working-class bona fides as a rural Skamania County resident who co-owns an auto repair shop in Portland with her husband.
And she argues that even in a relatively Republican neighborhood, Kent’s views are far from common.
“This guy is so extreme. He’s out of step with this district. If you go out there and ask people what their priorities are in Congress, they won’t tell you it’s about building the wall, arrest Fauci and impeach Biden,” she said.
Gluesenkamp Perez grew up in Texas. Her father emigrated from Mexico and met her mother while visiting Washington. She graduated from Reed College in Portland with a degree in economics.
She and her husband, Dean, run an auto repair shop with six elevators and eight employees, housed in a filthy machine shop they purchased with the help of a federal small business loan. They have a young son and a black dog named Uma Furman.
Working in the trades and living in a rural home the couple built brought her into contact with people who have moved away from the Democratic Party political class, she said.
Gluesenkamp Perez supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries, saying he better understood how far behind the country had fallen. Additionally, she said she had already spent most of her life under two political dynasties, the Bushes and the Clintons, and “it didn’t feel good to me.”
Although it doesn’t appear much in her campaign biography, Gluesenkamp Perez was active in politics as an elected member of the Democratic National Committee, where she pushed the organization to stop requiring trips across the country as condition of membership, to open up opportunities for people who are not wealthy. She also ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Skamania County Board of Commissioners in 2016.
Republicans have previously attacked her as a far-left activist, even a Marxist, but Gluesenkamp Perez said her real life ran counter to that image. “Yeah, I mean, if I was a blue-haired Marxist, I couldn’t get elected here. But I work in the trades. That’s what the middle of the road looks like,” he said. she declared.
She also distances herself from certain positions of the Democratic Party.
“I don’t support banning assault rifles. I support the timber industry. I think there’s a lot of government interference,” she said.
Gluesenkamp Perez said she would focus on pocket issues like schools and jobs, as well as her pro-abortion rights views, unlike Kent.
Kent appeared confident days after his runner-up finish in the primaries, which bounced six-term incumbent Herrera Beutler to third place and the November 8 general election ballot.
In an interview at a Battle Ground cafe, where some customers praised him and asked him to take selfies, he said he took nothing for granted and would work to broaden his appeal by focusing on economic issues.
“It’s not specifically about Marie. My problem is with the policies of the Democratic Party. I mean, if she’s talking about blue-collar workers working in the trades, the Democratic Party is gone and abandoned that,” Kent said. . “They favored Wall Street, they favored foreign immigration to the American people, and that is on full display.”
After a sometimes vicious GOP primary fight, Kent is trying to shore up the Republican vote, including supporters of Herrera Beutler. Although he attacked her in the primary as a “corporate swamp creature” who betrayed Trump, he said he would welcome her endorsement.
“I think we need to put past differences aside and unify, so that’s a conversation I’d be more than willing to have,” he said. “I also understand if we don’t have the conversation. You know, I understand.”
A Herrera Beutler campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the endorsement plans.
Another GOP rival, Heidi St. John, immediately endorsed Kent after the primary, though he has spent the past few months attacking her as a secret socialist. In an email announcement, she said Gluesenkamp Perez would be a “solid vote for Nancy Pelosi’s program of slaughtering America.”
Based on the breakdown of primary votes, Democrats face an uphill battle to win the district. Gluesenkamp Perez got 31% of the vote and another Democrat on the ballot had 2%, giving Democrats a combined vote share of 33%.
The five Republicans on the ballot received a combined 65% of the vote, led by Kent at 23% and Herrera Beutler at 22%. Even if many of Herrera Beutler’s supporters move to Gluesenkamp Perez, she will likely need to garner additional support, whether from independents or higher turnout among Democrats this fall.
Yet 2022 is, in some ways, uncharted territory.
Herrera Beutler is the first incumbent of Congress from Washington to lose in a primary since John F. Miller of Seattle in 1930, according to Benjamin Helle, research archivist at the Washington State Archives.
Some national analysts see Kent’s key win turning the 3rd District into a possible pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Dave Wasserman, with Cook’s nonpartisan Political Report, recently updated his prediction for the race from ‘Solid Republican’ to ‘Leans Republican’, writing that Kent’s ‘far-right’ views could put ‘siege of the suburbs of Portland in play in November”.
Meanwhile, Gluesenkamp Perez’s campaign saw an increase of more than $300,000 in online donations in one week last month. She had raised just $240,000 for the primary, compared to Kent’s $2.5 million.
She hires a new campaign manager, Phil Gardner, who steps down as Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck’s chief of staff. (Herrera Beutler defeated Heck in 2010 to win her first term in Congress).
State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said she is pushing national Democrats to review the 3rd District race. “I think there’s a potential opportunity to do polls during the race and see what people in the district really think of Joe Kent,” she said.
So far there have been no commitments.
Johanna Warshaw, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Campaign Committee, said in a statement that the organization had not made a decision, but “we are watching this seat closely.” She said Kent is “a dangerous extremist” who is “too dangerous to hold office”.
Kent joined other Republicans in pledging to retaliate against the FBI and the Justice Department after the raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, where a search warrant revealed that agents were looking for highly sensitive classified information that Trump may have illegally possessed.
He said he would support efforts to ‘defund’ the FBI and clean house atop the Justice Department, and retweeted US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s announcement that she had filed articles of impeachment against Attorney General Merrick Garland.
At the fair, voters were only beginning to learn about Gluesenkamp Perez, who sat with strangers as they ate fair trade food.
“I’ve heard of Joe Kent. I’m not a big fan of him,” said Alicia Ornelas, 33, of Vancouver, whose family emigrated from Mexico, expressing concern about anti-immigration policies.
She said she had never heard of Gluesenkamp Perez before, “but now I will review the information she gave us.”