Carolyn Long’s students say she’s a tough grader. She takes that as a compliment — and she’s hoping to take her red pen to Congress. Long is among three Democrats vying to take on Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, in November. The longtime Washington State University, Vancouver professor said her research into the state of politics today prompted her to get into the race.
“I couldn’t not notice what was happening on the national scene in terms of the instability in the 2016 presidential race, and I started thinking about what could be done to address what I think are our failed political institutions,” Long said. She pointed to the Initiative for Public Deliberation, a project she spearheads that seeks to foster productive discourse through community forums. It’s a response to the polarized dialogue that has become the norm in national politics.
“Too often we demonize people on the other side,” Long said.
Long’s commitment to working with others is a feel-good mantra, but it’s also one she uses as a line of attack, a distinction from her opponents. Herrera Beutler, she said, is too afraid to challenge President Trump or the GOP establishment. And Dorothy Gasque and David McDevitt, fellow challengers in the August Democratic primary, are “good people” who are just too beholden to the party.
“You see less willingness to work across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion,” she said.
As her campaign builds momentum, Long is touting a platform of economic justice, which she says is a response to wages that have been stagnant for decades. She points to internships and apprenticeships, infrastructure investment and healthcare access as avenues to help workers.
Meanwhile, she says her background as a political science professor would lessen the learning curve if she joins the House of Representatives.
“As a student of American institutions, I’m obviously a student of Congress,” she said. “I understand the institution well. … That helps me as someone who if elected would hit the ground running.”
After 22 years of teaching at WSU Vancouver, Long has earned a reputation as a challenging instructor, at least according to her reviews on the student-sourced website ratemyprofessors.com. She says that characterization is not far off.
“I’m a very difficult professor,” she said. “What distinguishes me from others is I’m very fair, and I provide my students every opportunity to be successful. I’m a tough grader, but I’ll give them study guides.”
She pointed to the fact that she has former students as part of her campaign team, joking that she can’t be all that bad if they still want to work for her. Long, who was raised in Oregon and lived in Salem until last July, has faced charges that her recent move to Vancouver proves that she can’t be in touch with the needs of a Washington district. She counters that her longtime work in Vancouver has made her a community fixture, whether or not she lived across the border.
“I’ve taught generations of students,” she said. “I’ve been embedded in this community. … If you actually look at what I’ve done in the community and how long I’ve done it, it’s more than any of the other people in the race — including Jaime Herrera Beutler — combined.”
Long’s campaign announced last week that she’s raised $275,000 since launching her bid in November, more than any Democrat in the district has raised in an entire campaign cycle since Herrera Beutler won the seat in 2010. She’s earned the endorsement of former Reps. Brian Baird and Don Bonker, both Democrats who once held the seat she is seeking. And she says polling shows her to be competitive with Herrera Beutler.
Still, the race will be an uphill battle. Herrera Beutler won reelection with nearly 62 percent of the vote in 2016, and President Trump carried the district handily as well. Many observers expect a Democratic wave in November, and Long notes that she’s running a more competitive campaign than Herrera Beutler has typically faced. “The challengers weren’t able to run as strong of a race as I have,” she said. “Recent races, including special elections, indicate that there is a lot of Democratic enthusiasm.”
Long has yet to receive backing from national groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or Emily’s List, which generally put money into races they see as close enough to be worth the investment.
Though she’s been in touch with Emily’s List, she’s not planning her campaign strategy around anything but her own team and local political groups. Right now, Long says she’s focused on meeting voters. She’s conducted 12 town halls and has another planned for Centralia College on April 16. “We’re having a ball,” Long said. “We’re having a great time. We’re meeting a lot of voters who really are excited about the opportunity to talk about what’s on their mind.”
On hot-button national issues, she sticks to her work-across-the-aisle mantra. She said lawmakers should approach gun reforms from a bipartisan basis instead of retreating to long-entrenched positions of polarization.
If elected, Long said she wouldn’t commit to supporting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to continue leading Democrats in the lower chamber, and she didn’t go out of her way to praise the former Speaker.
“It’s not something I’ve really thought about a whole lot,” Long said. “I do believe that the polarization in our institutions has a lot to do with the leaders who are representing the parties. ... I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, but I think a lot about the fact that leaders have made it very difficult for some members of Congress to govern independently.”