‘People are angry – they’re coming out with their pitchforks for this race,’ Democratic challenger tells Andrew Buncombe
A Democratic businesswoman looking to flip a much-watched House seat claims anger and outrage over the scrapping of Roe has led to a surge of interest in her campaign – enough to make the race “eminently winnable”.
Yet Ms Herrera Beutler, 43, was one of just 10 Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Donald Trump, an act that led to the former president vowing to oust her and the other members of Congress who dared to cross him, by endorsing and supporting his own challengers.
In #WA3, the Trump-backed challenger is Joe Kent, a 42-year-old former special forces veteran who has outlined an extreme, MAGA-like set of policies he would pursue if elected, and denounced Ms Herrera Beutler as a “Republican in name only”, or RINO.
Up until this point, Democratic candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, 34, who only joined the contest in April, has raised just a fraction of the money of her Republican rivals.
But she said the decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that had permitted two generations of women access to safe and legal abortion, had seen a spike in interest in her campaign, in terms of people reading her website and offering to volunteer.
“After the collapse of Roe, it has been an order of magnitude difference, in the number of volunteers coming through our website,” she told a virtual town hall this week in response to a question from The Independent. “People are angry. They’re coming out with their pitchforks for this race.”
She added: “We know that Jamie and Joe would both vote for a federal ban on abortion. And as much as we would like to think our rights are secure in Washington state, they’re not. They would like us to be complacent. We’re not. We’re not going to roll over for this one. These are rights worth fighting for.”
With Mr Trump’s backing, and the fundraising help such an endorsement brings, Mr Kent has been relentless in his attacks on Ms Herrera Beutler and in an interview earlier this year, he said he was confident of becoming the district’s next representative in Congress.
However, several other Republicans are also challenging Ms Herrera Beutler, with the primary to be held in August.
The primary system used in Washington state puts the two highest-scoring candidates in a general election play-off, regardless of their party. Ms Gluesenkamp Perez, co-owner of an auto-repair business, and who lives in Skamania County, 230 miles south of Seattle, believes that helps her.
“Jamie is getting desperate. Jamie has five Republicans running against her. She has never been primaried like this before,” she said.
“She is currently pulling it 21 per cent. There is not a viable path for her to make it through this race without taking Democratic votes.”
She claimed that Ms Herrera Beutler was trying to do that and was spending “over half a million dollars a week in TV ads right now”.
“And she’s putting them on MSNBC and CNN, which are traditionally more liberal-leaning news outlets,” she said. “She is coming after Democratic voters and the onus is on us to fight to keep the team together. Because the reality is, if it’s Joe or Jamie in Congress, they’re both going to vote for a federal ban on abortion.”
Ms Gluesenkamp Perez said she had met some Democrats who said they had been planning to vote for Ms Herrera Beutler, as a way to keep out the more extreme Mr Kent. She claimed she was steadily winning over such individuals to vote for her.
What is unclear at this stage is precisely what sort of impact Ms Gluesenkamp Perez’s campaign has had.
The last public polling was carried out in the middle of May and put Mr Kent on 28, Ms Herrera-Beutler on 22, Democrat Brent Hennrich on 12, Heidi St John, a Christian author and activist on 9, Ms Gluesenkamp Perez on 6 and Vicki Kraft, another Republican challenger, on 3. That poll, by the Trafalgar Group, was conducted before Mr Hennrich dropped out, saying he did not want to split the Democratic vote.
It is not known how much support Ms Gluesenkamp Perez may garner with all the non-Republican votes combined, and possibly with some Republicans. What is clear is that her fundraising efforts have been very lacklustre.
According to the most recent public information, Ms Herrera Beutler leads in the fundraising, raising $2.86m by March 31, with Mr Kent collating $1.85m, Ms St John $808,069 and Ms Gluesenkamp Perez $67,059. More updated filings should be available imminently.
Some reports have suggested that if Ms Gluesenkamp Perez gets 34 per cent in the primary, much less than the Democratic challenger to Mr Herrera Beutler in November 2020 secured, she would make it to the general election. (In 2020, Carolyn Long secured 43 points to Mr Herrera Beutler’s 56 points.)
“I will credit the Carolyn Long campaign. She really demonstrated that with a well-run campaign, that this district is absolutely winnable,” she said.
“You know, we only need 3 or 4 per cent of Republicans to vote with us in the general. And the reality is that Republican strategists assumed that Biden’s approval rating would be such that they could push through their nuttiest candidates this year.”
Not everyone shares Ms Gluesenkamp Perez’s optimism. The political website Five-Thirty-Eight ranks WA3 as “solidly Republican” and says Ms Herrera Beutler has a 99 per cent chance of winning.
Mr Kent, Ms Herrera Beutler and Ms St John did not respond to questions from The Independent.
In an email to supporters, Mr Kent accused Ms St John of having her finances boosted to the tune of $725,000 by a “dark money” SuperPac, titled Conservatives for a Stronger America, according to a Federal Election Commission filing he posted on Twitter.
Ms St John responded: “Your top dark money donor is a longtime Bilderberg attendee, Mr CIA.”
Ms Herrera Beutler is not the only Republican fighting for her political life in Washington state. In the 4th congressional district, Congressman Dan Newhouse has a battle on his hands, after he also voted to impeach Mr Trump.
In his race, Mr Trump has endorsed Loren Culp, a former Washington gubernatorial candidate.
Like Mr Trump, Mr Culp, a former police chief, refused to concede his election contest, after he was beaten by Democrat Jay Inslee by more than 540,000 votes. He filed a lawsuit but it was rapidly withdrawn.
Many Democrats are hoping their electoral fortunes get a boost by the 24 June decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.
Joe Biden has been criticised for not preparing a more effective plan of action to respond to the decision, especially since a draft ruling had been leaked weeks earlier.
He has stressed it is crucial that people who support Roe and want to codify it into federal law, vote for candidates who also support the right to abortion.
“This is the fastest route available,” he told reporters at the White House. “It’s my hope and my strong belief that women will in fact turn out in record numbers to reclaim the rights that have been taken from them by the court.”
In her town hall meeting, Ms Gluesenkamp Perez, who is originally from Texas, stressed her rural roots, and said she was a gun owner, albeit one who believed in common-sense gun safety.
She also talked about the issues she thought were important to working people – family-wage jobs, supporting people’s “right to repair” items such as tractors and farm equipment, and developing local timber and paper industries, all of which she said were “green jobs”.
She said she would fight for broadband internet connections and affordable healthcare.
She said: “When this is a race between me and Joe Kent this will be one of the hottest races on the west coast.”