OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — As one of two Republican members of Congress from Washington to have voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler faces one of her toughest primaries since she was first elected to represent the southwest region of the state in 2010.
The number of Republicans in the race — including a former Green Beret endorsed by Trump — and the anger that the six-term congresswoman sparked among some in her party with her impeachment vote means Herrera Beutler could face a scenario that seemed unfathomable in her previous re-election bids: not making it through the primary.
“For me and my team and the way we look at it, it’s another tough election,” Herrera Beutler told The Associated Press. “I’m not changing course. I’m still the same Republican I’ve always been.”
Under Washington’s primary system, the top two vote getters in each race Aug. 2 advance to the November election, regardless of party. Washington is a vote by mail state, and voters don’t have to declare a party affiliation.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, a four-term congressman in the 4th Congressional District, is the other Washington state member of Congress who has drawn Republican challengers, including one endorsed by Trump, due to his vote.
Perhaps the best known outside candidate in Newhouse’s intraparty feud is Loren Culp, a former small town police chief who lost the 2020 governor’s race to Democrat Jay Inslee but refused to concede. He won Trump’s endorsement in February, but has lagged other candidates in reported fundraising figures.
Due to the nature of the top-two primary, the vote in the 3rd Congressional District could cut in a variety of ways, including the incumbent advancing to the general election against a fellow Republican or against a Democratic challenger — in previous elections Democrats have always captured enough of the primary vote to advance to November. But Herrera Beutler could also be edged out.
It all comes down who turns out to vote and how much power the Trump endorsement holds, said Mark Stephan, an associate professor of political science at Washington State University-Vancouver.
“The 3rd District taps into that national story of, where is the Republican Party headed,” he said. “How much continued influence does President Trump have over the party?”
Trump had vowed revenge against the 10 House Republicans who crossed party lines to impeach him but has had mixed results in the primaries to date.
Rep. Tom Rice, a five-term congressman, was ousted by a Trump-endorsed state lawmaker in last month’s South Carolina primary. Rep. David Valadao of California advanced from that state’s top two primary to advance to the general election with a Democratic state lawmaker, surviving a challenge from a fellow Republican who faulted the congressman for his impeachment vote.
The impeachment vote came in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob that supported the president’s efforts to have the 2020 election overturned, driven by false claims of widespread voter fraud.
Hererra Beutler says she has no regrets about her impeachment vote — and stands by her comments made both on the floor and on Twitterafterward — including her revelation that Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told her he spoke with Trump as rioters were storming the Capitol, and that according to McCarthy the president said: ”‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”
But she said her focus since then has been on issues related to the district, like prescription drug prices and protecting salmon populations.
“I would hope anybody, whether they agree with me on the vote or not, would understand that you want a representative who feels their obligation is to their oath, which is an obligation to the Constitution,” she said.
Trump has endorsed Joe Kent, a regular on conservative cable shows who echoes the former president’s grievances about the 2020 election outcome.
Heidi St. John, a Christian author and home-school advocate who shares those views, rescinded a pledge to drop out of the race and support whomever Trump endorsed and has attacked Kent, saying she’s the only true conservative in the race.
The main Democrat in the race, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, has secured the support of key Democrats in the region.
Kent says the impeachment vote is what led him to get into elected politics. He had already established a relationship with the former president, whom he first met at Dover Air Force Base days after his wife, Navy cryptologist Shannon Kent, was killed by a suicide bomber in Syria during a mission to fight the Islamic State in 2019. Kent, who moved to Portland with his two young sons to be closer to family, ultimately moved across the border to Washington state the following year.
Kent said he’s part of the “America First” movement, and said that when he talks to voters, he contrasts himself against not just Democrats, but traditional Republicans as well. Kent said if Republicans win the majority in Congress, he would push for the impeachment of President Joe Biden and an investigation into the 2020 election.
“We are in the midst of the Republican civil war and America First is going to win that civil war and we are going to take over the Republican party,” he said.
Trump garnered about 38% of the statewide vote in 2020 but won the 3rd District with 50.6%. She’s fallen under 50% in crowded primaries before, most recently in 2018, but has never been at serious risk of not clearing the primary in her previous re-election bids.
St. John said some of his public stances and the fact he was registered as a Democrat and voted for Bernie Sanders in Oregon’s 2020 presidential primary – which Kent said he did to help Trump since he felt Sanders would be a weaker candidate against Trump than Biden – is among the reasons why she’s decided to stay in the race.
“I’m more concerned about electing a good representative than this narrative about splitting the vote,” she said. St. John — who is trailing in fundraising behind Herrera Beutler and Kent — is benefiting in more than $1.3 million in outside spending from a newly created political action committee called Conservatives For A Stronger America.
For Gluesenkamp Perez, she sees the Republican infighting as an opportunity for Democrats who haven’t held this seat since Herrera Beutler first won it 12 years ago.
“I’m the only candidate who understands what it’s like to navigate America as a small business owner working in the trades, and that’s what this district looks like,” said Gluesenkamp Perez, who own an auto shop with her husband across the border in Portland.
Ballots were mailed to the state’s nearly 4.8 million registered voters last week, including the more than 499,000 in the 3rd Congressional District, whose borders changed recently under redistricting.