Can a Democrat be elected to Congress from Southwest Washington, or is the 3rd District safe for Republicans?
That’s the pivotal question as Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, prepares to face six challengers in Tuesday’s primary election. She’s running against fellow Republicans Earl Bowerman and Michael Cortney and Democrats Dorothy Gasque, Martin Hash, Carolyn Long and David McDevitt. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election.
To date, the four-term Southwest Washington representative has defended her seat with ease.
In November 2016, Herrera Beutler earned 59.17 percent of the vote against former Democratic state Rep. Jim Moeller, the Legislature’s speaker pro tem. In 2014, she attracted 59.45 percent of the vote against Democrat Bob Dingethal.
Both local parties report increased involvement and excitement about the upcoming election, but their perspectives of the race predictably differ.
Clark County Republican Party Chair David Gellatly is confident in Herrera Beutler’s ability to move forward and retain her seat.
“I see a lot of energy on the Republican side,” Gellatly said. “I don’t think there is going to be a big blue wave sweeping the nation this year.”
Some Republicans are unhappy with the party, however. In Portland, Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann recently announced that after 40 years as a Republican, she is switching parties. Stegmann cited President Donald Trump and the “unethical and immoral behavior” of his administration as the cause.
But Gellatly said he hasn’t noticed that sort of discontent here.
“I think the Republican Party is working through some typical division when you’re growing, but I think it’s growing faster,” he said.
Gellatly also disagrees with the notion that some Republicans are displeased with the president’s performance, despite ongoing pushback on current issues from conservatives in Congress.
“I think as a whole every single Republican has come around and is excited about the direction of the country,” Gellatly said. “I think it’s a very positive thing, while a lot of frustration happens around his Twitter account, I don’t think people are voting based on a Twitter post. They’re going to vote based on the country.”
Vancouver political consultant Jim Mains disagrees.
Mains, a campaign strategist with High Five Media, said he thinks the “Trump factor” could impact the local congressional race hugely.
“We’ve heard from numerous Republicans that the Putin thing is a big concern,” Mains said. “There is a little bit of questioning of Trump within his more hard-core supporters around Russia. I think if something does happen between now and November that would affect Jaime negatively.”
Clark County Democratic Party Chair Rich Rogers concurs.
“I think Jaime is, for the first time, in trouble,” Rogers said.
The problem, he added, is that the president continues to take action without accountability from the Republican Party.
“I believe that will hurt locally the vote for Jaime,” he said. “There are a lot of good Republicans out here that believe in common-sense decisions, but they’re having those beliefs challenges by the man in the White House. And that will filter down to Jaime, absolutely.”
A lack of transparency from Herrera Beutler concerning her views on current policy is also an issue, Rogers said.
“Silence is approval,” he added.
Difficult for Dems But is discontent from some enough to elect a Democrat to a seat held by a Republican since the district lines were redrawn after the 2010 census? Maybe.
“I think it’s a difficult race, I won’t lie,” Rogers said. “We have the number in Democratic voters; it’s the turnout that’s always been an issue. If we could get the turnout up, that would be if a candidate gets people excited and engaged, we could throw Jaime out of office.”
He’s hesitantly optimistic based on the unexpected turnout at a recent candidate forum hosted by the party.
“That was the highest turnout we’ve had in 20 years for any event,” Rogers said. “I was astounded.”
Mains argued it comes down to how those Republicans who don’t support Herrera Beutler vote. Many were waiting to see if a candidate to the right of Herrera Beutler would announce. And one did: Bowerman.
“That candidate has the support of a lot of the people that supported (Republicans) Liz Pike and David Madore,” Mains said. “After the primary when it comes to a Republican versus a Democrat, are they really going to support a Democrat over Jaime? That’s really what it comes down to.”
Democrats would also need to come together and support their primary winner wholeheartedly, Mains said.
“In order for a Democrat to win, the energy that you’re seeing from let’s say the top three right now — Dorothy (Gasque), (David) McDevitt and (Carolyn) Long — you would have to see that exact intense energy and effort put into the winner by all three of them,” he said.
Rogers added that primaries are difficult because it’s like a family argument.
“I think in the end we’ll all come around our Democrat, no matter who it is,” he said.
Turnout is key
At the end of the day, it comes down to voter turnout. Regardless of party — or even how someone ultimately votes — the message is clear: Southwest Washington residents need to vote.
“I want to emphasize, Republican or Democrat, people need to get out there and vote and get our voice heard,” Rogers said. “The voters really have a choice. I hope they get involved.”
As of Friday, only 51,505 ballots were returned out of 279,284 eligible voters. In the 2017 primary, only 47,825 ballots were returned, or 20 percent of the eligible electorate.
Voter engagement is typically lower in nonpresidential election years, but Mains thinks 2018 voters are energized. Early returns show that’s partially true.
“I think people are frustrated because even if you were a Trump supporter they’re not happy with the House, they’re not happy with the Senate,” he said.
On the other side of the spectrum, Mains said it’s “do or die” for those concerned about losing their rights.
“For me, it comes down to this: Do we need to replace Jaime Herrera Beutler?” Rogers said. “If the answer is yes, then a Democrat is the way to go.”
Republicans, of course, may disagree.