Cowlitz County Democrats packed into the Longview Women’s Club building Monday to get their first look at Carolyn Long, a WSU Vancouver professor who formally declared her candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District in November.
About 90 people filled the small meeting hall, where Long spent about an hour fielding a wide range of questions. The robust turnout exceeded the venue’s capacity, and roughly a dozen people were forced to stand at the back of the room to hear Long speak.
A man named Rich cut to the chase with his first question.
“Are you going to be a full-time campaigner?” he asked. “Because in the past, we’ve seen people declare and then that’s basically the last time we see them.”
It was a question alluding to the scant opposition incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler has seen since first winning election in 2010.
The fourth-term Republican congresswoman has won each of her re-election campaigns by more than 20 percentage points. In the 2016 race for the 3rd District, state Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) won the Democratic nomination but did little to fundraise or campaign.
But Long, a seasoned professor with a strong teacher’s voice, exuded confidence Monday.
“I decided to run because I know I can win,” Long said.
Long said she’s reducing her workload at the university over the next 16 weeks and will take a leave of absence to campaign full-time in the spring, when the primary season kicks into high gear. She’s one of three Democrats vying for the party’s nomination.
Long also noted that Swing Left — a progressive organization that aims to flip the U.S. House of Representatives back to Democrats — announced last month that it’s targeting Herrera Beutler in this year’s midterms.
Long sought to draw a contrast with Herrera Beutler, who has not held an in-person town hall event with constituents since January of last year.
(Herrera Beutler has conducted five “telephone town halls” since winning re-election in November 2016.)
“I really think one of my strengths in terms of the current incumbent is the fact that I’m willing to come here into your community at your invitation,” Long said. “I’m here to look you in the eye and tell you about my positions.”
Long said her top three priorities are increasing funding for rural infrastructure, finding ways to provide more family wage jobs, and improving access to health care.
On health care, Long said she favors shoring up the fragile individual marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act before pursuing a more ambitious health care model such as Medicare for All or single-payer.
When pressed on her position regarding veterans’ health care, Long said she favors the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which gives select veterans access to private medical care.
As a constitutional law professor, Long said also supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which held that political spending is a protected form of free speech under the First Amendment.
Throughout the event, attendees peppered Long with questions about how she would weigh job creation and economic growth against environmental protections.
Long said she’s still researching Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed $680 million Longview coal dock and Northwest Innovation Works’ $1.8 billion Kalama methanol plant. (Congress has virtually no direct say about either projects.)
“I think the challenge with both projects is when you have a county like Cowlitz, where your poverty rate is lower than other counties in the state and where you used to have a lot of industrial jobs, the allure of good family paying jobs that we can offer people who are struggling is really enticing,” she said.
Long said she’s also bringing herself up to speed on Pacific Coast Fertilizer’s $1 billion ammonia plant at Longview’s Mint Farm Industrial Park. Toward the end of the event, a woman standing in the back encouraged participants to focus on the national political agenda.
“We’re talking about a federal position, and I would like people to think about the harm that’s being done right now by the Republican Congress and how important it is to flip that Congress,” she said to a round of applause. “I hope we can all, as Democrats or potential Democrats, rise above some of the local issues that divide us or separate us.”
Kelso resident Carla Tolle, a former student of Long’s, said she’s confident Long can win. But one of her biggest challenges, she said, will be uniting the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings of the party.
Sanders made a strong showing in Cowlitz County in 2016, beating Clinton 255 to 76 in the March caucuses.
It was the third town hall event Long has held since meeting with voters in Vancouver and Klickitat County. Her next event is in Skamania County on Jan. 15, followed by a town hall in Centralia on Jan. 22.