A look at WA’s competitive 3rd Congressional District race

After voting to impeach former President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is vulnerable for the first time in many election cycles.

Candidates for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District

Candidates for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District are, from left, incumbent Jamie Herrera Beutler, R; Joe Kent, R; Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D; and Heidi St. John, R. (Courtesy of the candidates)

The numbers show U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler was more popular than Donald Trump in the 2020 election. 

Herrera Beutler defeated her Democratic challenger 56.4% to 43.4% in the Republican-leaning 3rd Congressional District, compared with former President Trump's 50.6% to President Joe Biden’s 46.9%. But those numbers also show a significant Democratic presence in the southwest Washington district.

And that partly explains why the six-term congresswoman is facing challengers from both the right and the left this year. The other reason: Her vote, along with U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse from Central Washington, to impeach Trump. Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, were among 10 Republicans in the U.S. House to vote to impeach the former president after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Both said they saw ample evidence that the president helped incite the riot. And now both long-time members of Congress are facing primary challenges from the right this election season.

The plan to challenge Herrera Beutler began days after that January 2021 impeachment vote.

Joe Kent is the hard-right, take-no-prisoners Fox News candidate endorsed by Trump. Heidi St. John is a solid conservative and Trump supporter, but is willing to reach across the aisle. Herrera Beutler is also a solid conservative, but routinely supports bipartisan legislation. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is the sole Democrat in the race. 

Herrera Beutler has the biggest campaign war chest, raising $2.86 million by March 31. Kent has raised $1.85 million. St. John is a distant third, with $808,069 raised by March 31. Perez is a far distant fourth — $67,059 by March 31. But because there are three Republicans in the contest, who will advance to the general election is not easy to predict. 

If a huge Democratic turnout gives Perez 34% — much lower than 2020’s 43% — of the total primary vote, the math puts her in the top two on the November ballot.

Here is a rundown of the top four candidates, from right to left.

Joe Kent

Kent is hard right or, as he says: “I’m hard America First.”

He’s hardcore pro-Trump. He thinks Herrera Beutler and St. John are not conservative enough. He doesn’t believe in compromise in politics. He routinely appears on Tucker Carlson’s Fox TV show. He wants U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, instead of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, to be the new speaker of the House, if the GOP takes control of the House in the November election.

If elected, Kent wants to immediately call for the impeachment of President Joe Biden and for an investigation into the 2020 presidential election.

As a potential freshman legislator, he does not believe that seniority or working with moderates or liberals is important. ”You’re talking about a bygone era. … Why bring knives to a gunfight?” Kent said. He cited Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz as examples of junior members of Congress influencing the Republican agenda.

Kent defended outgoing U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-North Carolina, when he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.” Kent opposes American aid to Ukraine, saying that could provoke Russia into a nuclear war. In fact, he opposes the United States getting militarily involved in other countries, except when there is a clear-cut advantage to America.

Kent, 42, grew up in Portland, joining the U.S. Army at 18. He joined the Rangers and then the Special Forces. He served 11 combat tours, rising to the rank of chief warrant officer three (CW3). In 2019, an ISIS bomb killed his wife, Shannon, in Syria. Kent retired to take care of their two sons, moving back to Portland. Unhappy with Portland’s liberal atmosphere, he moved across the Columbia River to Yacolt, Clark County. He is engaged to be married.

Kent’s arms are covered with intermingled tattoos commemorating Shannon and his military service.

Herrera Beutler’s impeachment vote prompted Kent to run, arguing the congresswoman did not have all the facts nailed down before her vote.

Kent stands against Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and moderate Republicans. He is also against seeking federal appropriations for local projects — commonly called “pork” — because he contends these budget items are inserted into various omnibus bills he views as bad legislation.

He wants to abolish most immigration to the U.S. because he sees newcomers taking jobs away from American citizens. In fact, Washington’s economy is heavily dependent on immigrants. The high-tech world of Puget Sound recruits extensively from overseas. Meanwhile, the farms of Central and Eastern Washington depend on immigrants, refugees and temporary workers to do back-breaking labor in the fields — jobs that most other American citizens avoid.

Kent believes high-tech companies should recruit almost exclusively from the United States, and American citizens should be encouraged to work on Washington farms.

Heidi St. John

”Joe is so far right, he’s left. … He’s a populist. I’m a conservative,” St. John told Crosscut.

St. John, 52, falls politically between Herrera Beutler and Kent — a solid conservative, but also someone who is open to working across the aisle. That also squeezes her into a niche between two GOP candidates with higher profiles and much bigger war chests. To St. John, a longtime Clark County resident living in Battle Ground, Kent is a Johnny-come-lately to the 3rd Congressional District and a showboat. “He sees glamour in it. This shouldn’t be a glamorous job,” she said.

She had been dissatisfied with several of Herrera Beutler’s stances on the issues. But “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was her impeachment vote. “The Issue is whether Trump incited [the Jan. 6 riot]. I didn’t see that that day,” she said.

The mother of seven is a Christian author and podcaster. She also runs a home-schooling center in Vancouver that contains books, theatrical space and equipment, science labs and music practice rooms. St. John has a crown tattooed on her hip, commemorating  “The King of Kings.” It was a gesture of solidarity with her five sisters.

She picked up an interest in politics in 2020 while opposing Washington’s Referendum 90, which required comprehensive sex education in public school, while allowing parents to request that their children be excused from the classes. The referendum passed.

St. John wants to get the federal government out of education and business regulation as much as possible. She wants to cut taxes if it does not create budget shortfalls. And while not wanting to ban immigration to the extent advocated by Kent, she wants some immigration reform. St. John has “no problem” with reviving construction of the stalled border wall with Mexico. “The southern border — it’s not an immigration. It’s an invasion,” she said.

Jaime Herrera Beutler

The Cowlitz County Republican Party had a booth at Longview’s big Fourth of July celebration. Lots of candidate signs, but the only congressional campaign sign was for Kent. No signs for Herrera Beutler were visible.

Kent, St. John and Perez all have accused Herrera Beutler of being disengaged from the 3rd Congressional District, claiming people have a hard time getting responses from her. Crosscut left roughly a dozen voicemail messages with her campaign office over a two-week period. None of those requests asking for an interview was returned.

Still, Herrera Beutler has $2 million in the bank for campaigning, along with 12 years of incumbency, which makes her part of the fabric of the district.

If Herrera Beutler places in the top two on Aug. 2, she would be guaranteed massive extra voter support from either the right or left — depending on which other candidate makes the cut.

She is known for hearing and revealing a phone conversation between House Minority Leader McCarthy and Trump on Jan. 6 when the former president is believed to have said: 'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” Herrera Beutler told CNN that showed Trump either wanted the riot to occur or was inclined not to stop the riot — either action calling for impeachment.

Overall, Herrera Beutler ranks high on conservative legislative scorecards and low on similar liberal ones. But a Georgetown University study in 2017 concluded that of the 435 House members, Beutler was the 15th mostly likely to cross the aisle in voting on legislation.

The 43-year-old mother of three has been in Congress since 2010 and served 1½ terms in the Washington Legislature. Before that, she was a legislative aide to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who represents Washington’s 5th Congressional District in Eastern Washington.

Herrera Beutler’s campaign site lists numerous bills that she has introduced that have passed.

These include measures addressing maternal mortality, newborn health screening and improving the importing of prescription drugs from Canada. She opposed Obamacare, and was successful in helping remove the individual mandate penalty from that program.

She helped create an affordable housing task force, secured money for harbor improvements in small towns along Washington’s coast, led passage of a bill that allow tribes to kill a limited number of sea lions that gobble up migrating salmon and pushed another bill to boost Dungeness crab fisheries. She also helped finance road improvements in the Columbia Gorge area.

Herrera Beutler successfully opposed a proposed 79-mile power transmission line from Castle Rock to Washougal to the Oregon side of the Columbia River. The measure would have cut across roughly 300 pieces of private property.

With new TV advertising promoting her accomplishments in health care — a traditionally Democratic priority — Herrera Beutler appears to be reaching out to people who might be inclined otherwise to vote for Perez.

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez 

Perez’s campaign is operating on a shoestring. A frayed shoestring.

Her war chest is less than 3% of Beutler’s, less than 6% of Kent’s and less than 25% of St. John’s.

Perez shouldn’t even be in this election picture, except that she is the sole Democrat in the race. Her two key numbers are that 43% of the district voted Democrat in the 2020 congressional election, and she needs only 34% of the primary vote to be guaranteed a trip to November.

If she wins in August, Perez believes that her campaign will receive a massive influx of local and national donations, especially if Kent is the other remaining candidate. And with the U.S. Supreme Court recently overturning Roe v. Wade, Perez said she has seen a huge influx of new volunteers. “It’s now clear that it is not enough to have Trump gone,” she said.

Perez, 34, lives in rural Skamania County with Clark County’s Washougal being the closest town. She co-owns a 7½-employee auto repair shop in Portland with her husband. “Rural people tend to fix their own cars,” Perez said. Consequently, Portland is where the auto repair customers are. Perez works the front desk, where she does the initial diagnosis of car problems over the phone and orders parts, while handling other administrative duties. The couple have an 11-month-old boy.

Perez is the only public officeholder among the three top challengers; she was elected in 2019 as a supervisor of the Underwood Conservation District. She has “PMA” tattooed on her right ankle, which stands for ”Positive Mental Attitude.”

Perez acknowledges that, if elected, she would be a freshman in the minority party. Conventional political wisdom has the Republicans taking control of the House in January 2023.

Her legislative agenda is modest. One priority is to tackle “right-to-repair” laws, an issue that has gained momentum over the past couple years in the United States and Europe.

In many cases, cars, tractors, cellphones and  electronic devices are built and set up so that their repairs have to go through the manufacturer. One example is that a special code is needed to open or deal with some electronic devices — and the manufacturer is the only entity with that code. Or the manufacturer may be the only entity with the special tools to open or repair a piece of equipment. The bottom line is that a layperson or an independent shop cannot fix that vehicle or device; only the manufacturer can.

This issue has led to people and small businesses being shut out of fixing these items. It has also been blamed for premature obsolescence, and adding to waste streams of electronics. “You should be able to fix your own stuff. … There aren’t enough well-informed laymen and tradesmen in Congress,” Perez said.

She also wants to funnel more federal money to the 3rd District for technical education.

Another Perez concern is China’s near-monopoly on manufacturing solar power panels, including creating the materials to make these panels. She argues that the United States should get more aggressive in building the panels, parts and materals for solar farms.

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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8