Michael Delavar says he's running against U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler because he's disappointed by his fellow Republican's voting record.
He ticked off a few examples and then said, "Sometimes it's difficult to know why she votes" the way she does.
"In 2008, I ran against Brian Baird," Delavar told a crowd of about 30 people last week at a debate hosted by the Klickitat Democrats and Republicans in Goldendale. "And he had the distinction, I believe, of having over 500 town halls. Even though I disagree with his votes, he set a great example of coming before the people, hearing from them directly."
Suddenly, his Democratic opponent, Bob Dingethal, also vying for the 3rd Congressional District seat, who was waiting to give his opening remarks, started nodding his head in agreement.
The odds are against both Dingethal and Delavar: it's very difficult to unseat an incumbent. But as the two campaign to distinguish themselves from the two-term congresswoman and each other, there is one point that continually resurfaces.
Herrera Beutler's "aloofness and unwillingness to engage are her biggest weakness," Dingethal said.
"It shows a lack of courage and conviction. … If she's so confident her policies are the right ones, she should be confident to stand up in front of people and discuss them in detail," he said.
It's a criticism Herrera Beutler seems accustomed to hearing, saying she's taken a "vigorous approach" to town halls throughout the district. The congresswoman hosts "community coffees"; people who live nearby are called and invited to participate.
"I've hosted a tremendous amount of meetings in the district, and I'm not going to let up on that and I'm going to do it in a way that I think best allows people to share honestly and openly and frankly what their thoughts and needs are," she has told The Columbian.
If elected, both Delavar and Dingethal said they would host traditional town hall meetings.
So far, Delavar and Dingethal have debated each other three times. They have a fourth scheduled next week. Last week, the two faced off in Bucoda and spoke to a group of about 10. Herrera Beutler wasn't there — Congress is in session — but someone from her campaign was sent to videotape the event. Her campaign said she wasn't offered the opportunity to send someone to speak on her behalf.
"She plays the political game pretty effectively by not making definitive statements about things," Dingethal said.
But sometimes, "right or wrong," he charged, "you have to tell people what you believe."
Versus the incumbent: Bob Dingethal
Dingethal knows he's the underdog.
He knows Herrera Beutler will likely outspend him several times over.
But it's not stopping him.
"If I can reach enough people and there is enough dissatisfaction there …" Dingethal said.
The 58-year-old candidate is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. He was one of seven children and struggled as a young adult when both his parents died, his mom when he was 18 and his father when he was 20. He ended up going on a cross-country road trip, landing at college in San Jose, Calif. A mid-life re-evaluation after a career in telecommunications sent him back to school; he earned his master's in public affairs and went to work for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell as her outreach director.
Dingethal's unapologetic for what he called a "divisive" support of public unions, noting they are key to bolstering the middle class by ensuring fair wages through collective bargaining.
There are the wedge issues that separate him and his opponents — he supports stricter gun laws, he has a different take on immigration reform, he was in favor of the Columbia River Crossing project as proposed.
"We should be under construction right now," he said.
"She could have taken a leadership role in that and help facilitate the CRC. She did not," he said of Herrera Beutler, R-Camas.
And of course there is the Affordable Care Act, which Herrera Beutler would like to see repealed.
"Yet she's been the beneficiary of tax dollars for her family health needs," Dingethal said, noting that Herrera Beutler's young daughter was born without kidneys and was in the hospital for an extended period.
But there's also a style difference, Dingethal maintains.
Dingethal blasts Herrera Beutler for making some choices solely to benefit her long-term career.
"Having a young Latino female is a great thing and we need to promote more, but I don't think she's representative of that community," he said.
If elected, he said, he's willing to take risks. He would work to lower student debt, decrease class sizes and make education a priority. He aligns closely with many of the Democratic Party's core values on the environment and women's right to choose, and is in favor of the move to decriminalize marijuana.
But he believes there is a lot he can do that isn't legislative.
"For a U.S. Representative, there is a lot you can do, but it takes showing up," he said.
"It's not all about passing legislation or voting with your party line. It's about connecting people with the right agency. I think you saw that with Brian Baird, and that's what I would like to bring back," Dingethal said.
Versus the incumbent: Michael Delavar
Congress, Delavar said, is trying to "run our lives."
And he thinks it is doing a lousy job.
"I'm tired of our rights' being trampled — when you hear about the NSA (National Security Agency) storing our emails, storing our phone calls and every time you turn around our government is getting larger and more obtrusive in our lives," he said.
Delavar, a Washougal airline pilot, is an evangelical Christian who believes the Bible should be interpreted literally; he's running on the belief that the Constitution should be handled the same. Congress has overreached on too many occasions, he said, and is not following the founding fathers' wisdom.
If he is elected, there might be legislation he believes is a good idea.
But "my bellwether is the Constitution," he said. If he doesn't believe the government has authority, no matter the need, he would not be in favor.
Which is why he believes convicted felons, after serving time, should not have their "right to bear arms" revoked.
He said his position includes people convicted of all crimes, including domestic abuse.
"The question I have to ask is, 'If part of the purpose to owning guns is to defend yourself in the worst-case scenario against your own government, and you have to ask your government for permission to have a gun — isn't there something wrong with that picture?' " he said.
Delavar grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo., where his father worked for the Department of Defense. He was home-schooled and he now home-schools his two sons. He grew up reading the Federalist Papers and says he believes wholeheartedly in government "as the founding fathers understand them and the wisdom of limiting the federal government."
Delavar, who voted for Herrera Beutler in 2010, takes issue with her vote to end the government shutdown. And he said she voted in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which had a controversial component giving the government the ability to indefinitely detain a suspected terrorist.
He believes the children who are crossing into the U.S. need to be immediately shipped back across the border and that the president needs to "faithfully execute the laws."
If elected, he would sign on to legislation to audit the Federal Reserve and push for the U.S. to get out of the United Nations.
And like Dingethal, he said, he would host numerous town halls and "listen to people even if they don't support (my) position."