In-Depth Profile Reveals Sharp Candidate Differences
Washington’s Third Congressional District race this fall may be a microcosm of the upcoming midterm election that will decide which party controls Congress the next two years. The race also may reflect the future direction of Republican and Democratic candidacies going forward.
In a two-page spread in the Sunday edition of The New York Times, op-ed columnist Michelle Goldberg profiled Republican Joe Kent and Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez who are vying to replace Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, who Kent defeated in a tightly contest GOP primary. Goldberg’s profile goes much deeper than typical political coverage after she followed each candidate on the campaign trail in Southwest Washington.
Goldberg paints Kent as a hard-right conservative and Gluesenkamp Perez as a working-class Democrat. She says Kent was motivated to run after his wife, a Navy cryptologist, was killed in an ISIS bombing attack in Syria in 2019, leaving him a widower with two children. Gluesenkamp Perez, who along with her husband operates an auto repair shop in Portland, decided to run because of Kent’s MAGA candidacy.
Goldberg begins her profile by recounting how months before the primary Kent tried to distance his candidacy from Nick Fuentes, a 24-year-old white supremacist and Christian nationalist political commentator who denies the Holocaust and admires Russian President Vladimir Putin. When asked why he wanted to create space between himself and Fuentes, Kent said: “It’s more of a tactics thing. Running out there and saying, ‘This movement is for white people and Christians only’ is not how you win elections at all.”
She noted the irony of Kent’s endorsement by former President Donald Trump despite the young candidate’s anger at the “administrative state” during the Trump administration that he believes slow-walked a withdrawal order from Syria that led to his wife’s death.
Kent is “one of the more polished MAGA candidates,” Goldberg says. “His military service – 11 tours, mostly in Iraq – is very real and he has an immensely sympathetic personal story. One of Kent’s key advantages is he doesn’t have the affect of a flame-throwing extremist.”
Goldberg attended a pair of rallies in Skamania County where Kent said, “Our agenda for the first two years is simple. Impeachment, obstruction and oversight. The Biden agenda dies off in the crib.” He promised to impeach President Biden on “Day One” and follow up by impeaching Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he claimed was a chief fundraiser for Antifa and Black Lives Matter.
Kent also pledged to hold NIH Director Anthony Fauci accountable for “murder” in what he called the “scam that is COVID.” And he expressed willingness to shut down the federal government by refusing to approve federal spending authorization. “I used to work in the federal government,” he told supporters. “It can shut down. It’s really not a big deal.”
In high school, Gluesenkamp Perez says she was so obsessed with civics that she was active in both the Young Republicans and Young Democrats. When her brother came out as gay, Gluesenkamp Perez settled on being a Democrat. Her own backstory reinforces her political choice. Perez told Goldberg she suffered a miscarriage during the pandemic and the only place she could obtain medical care was at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Goldberg drew a comparison between Gluesenkamp Perez and Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman: “Both are part of working-class communities and use cultural fluency as much as political rhetoric to try to connect with voters who might feel alienated with the national Democratic Party.”
“We get our water from a well. I get my internet from a radio tower. And that means a lot to people in rural communities,” Gluesenkamp Perez tells voters. She attributes her current political approach to her failed 2016 Skamania County commission candidacy. “I really learned how to listen more deeply about actual concerns,” Perez told Goldberg. “You go a little deeper and you can start to hear…what’s really influencing [their] quality of life.”
Gluesenkamp Perez admits to infrequently mentioning her immigrant heritage, especially when campaigning before white, English-speaking audiences. “I’d say a lot of moderates feel like it’s somehow identity politics,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “I was not in this race to out Jaime Herrera Beutler. Did I love her? No, but I wasn’t going to upset my life to run against her. But Joe Kent is dangerous, and I really felt like the same brand of Democrat with a pedigree and a graduate degree was not the solution right now.”
Goldberg covered a Gluesenkamp Perez fundraiser at a Vancouver brewery. Washington Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who notched legal victories against the Trump administration, endorsed her. But the other speaker on her behalf was more unexpected – David Nierenberg, a hedge fund manager and a major fundraiser for Herrera Beutler.
“I have never been involved with such a joyous and ecstatic and enthusiastic fundraising effort as I’m seeing here,” Nierenberg reportedly said. “And I think that Is a combination of the huge differences between these two candidates, where Marie is likable, approachable, moderate, well-spoken and then we have a flame-throwing extremist on the other side.”
In Washington’s top-two primary in August, Gluesenkamp Perez came away with the most votes in the Third District that includes Skamania, Clark, Cowlitz, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Lewis and a portion of Thurston counties. She collected 68,190 votes to Kent’s 50,097 votes. Herrera Beutler had just 1,000 fewer votes than Kent, reflecting the substantial GOP electoral edge in the district.
According to results published by the Northwest Progressive Institute, a 864-respondent sample of Third District voters polled on September 19-20 favored Kent over Gluesenkamp Perez by 47 to 44 percent, with 9 percent undecided.
According to results published by the Northwest Progressive Institute, a 864-respondent sample of Third District voters polled on September 19-20 favored Kent over Gluesenkamp Perez by 47 to 44 percent, with 9 percent undecided. The difference is within the poll’s margin of error.
A Democrat hasn’t held the Third District since Brian Baird won the seat in 2008. Herrera Beutler won re-election to a fourth term in 2020 by a 56 to 43 percent margin over a Democratic challenger. She was one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol to block certification of Biden’s electoral victory. All but one of those 10 Republicans have retired or lost primary races for re-election to Trump-endorsed opponents.
Another irony noted in Goldberg’s profile is that Kent, who earned a Trump endorsement because of Herrera Beutler’s impeachment vote, believes the January 6 assault “reeks of an intelligence operation” and says those charged and convicted in connection with the assault are “political prisoners” who should be released.
[The New York Times has a strict paywall to view its content. For those with subscriptions, the link to Goldberg’s profile is https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/24/opinion/house-republican-elections.html]