OK, OK, it’s a hackneyed metaphor. But it also is unavoidable.
Because as Jaime Herrera Beutler and Carolyn Long met with The Columbian’s Editorial Board on Wednesday — less than 24 hours after advancing to the general election for congressional representative from Washington’s 3rd District — they came out swinging. They threw haymakers and jabs. They danced and stayed on their toes.
Instead of plodding around and cautiously covering up to avoid making a mistake, they demonstrated the insight and quick thinking that made them the best candidates in a field that started with seven people.
The winner of the first round? The people of Washington, of course.
Because what we deserve and what we need — both here and throughout the country — are competitive elections filled with robust debate at this critical juncture in our history. As Wednesday’s first meeting between Herrera Beutler and Long showed, that is what the people of the 3rd District will have between now and November.
Herrera Beutler, the incumbent Republican, has been in office since 2010, when she won with 53 percent of the vote. After that, her constituency was reconfigured as Washington added a 10th district. Herrera Beutler benefited from that change, which made her district more conservative, and she has won subsequent elections with 60, 62, and 62 percent of the vote.
Those early knockouts are not solely a result of demographic changes; Herrera Beutler has been popular with constituents and deserves credit for that.
But this year’s contest promises to go the distance. Through Thursday’s count, Herrera Beutler had 42.1 percent of the vote in the primary, while Long had 35.3 percent. Notably, the three Republicans in the race combined for 51 percent, while the four Democrats pulled 49 percent.
Which begs the question: How large is the coming blue wave? Midterm elections typically favor the party that is not in power, and the fact that the party in power this year is led by an incompetent charlatan is expected to turn that wave into a tsunami. Judging by Tuesday’s primary results, six congressional districts in Washington will be easy victories for Democrats and one is safely in Republican hands. The other three — all currently held by Republicans — are in play.
That wave also could be seen in the primary results for local races. Brandon Vick, a Republican legislator from the 18th District who won with 63 percent of the vote two years ago, received 51.8 percent in a two-person primary. Kathy Gillespie, a Democrat running in that same traditionally conservative district, received 52.3 percent in a two-person race.
A losing strategy
Primaries are not the same as general elections. They are more like the four-rounder on the undercard, and the key for both parties in November will be voter turnout.
That is what makes the race between Herrera Beutler and Long so interesting. While the incumbent has easily won her past three elections and while she represents a district that favored Donald Trump by 7 percentage points in the 2016 election, Long is the kind of engaging, energetic candidate who can turn the contest into a brawl.
Herrera Beutler’s strategy, judging from Wednesday’s opening round, includes making an issue of the fact that Long moved from Oregon to the 3rd District last year. It is a fair criticism, one that voters will have to weigh for themselves.
But Herrera Beutler’s main policy issue is a losing one — if voters have been paying attention. She continues to trumpet the scam of a Republican tax cut passed last year. A reminder: The tax cut is being paid for with record levels of deficit spending, and polls show the American public disapproves of the tax cuts.
All of that will play a role between now and November. And while we will avoid making a bet on the fight at this point, we will offer one prediction — voters in the 3rd District are going to witness the kind of bout they deserve.