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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Khalil drops out of 3rd District congressional race

Former candidate points to area's lack of 'robust progressive movement'

By Calley Hair, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 3, 2020, 11:38am

Peter Khalil, a Vancouver resident who sought the Democratic nomination for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, has dropped out of the 2020 election.

In a post to his social media pages over the weekend, Khalil said he was ending the campaign “as I began it: with gratitude.”

“My decision is based on a number of factors: the resources required to continue a viable effort through the primary, an analysis of the support available for a progressive candidate in this district, as well as the impact of campaigning on my family,” Khalil wrote.

Asked if he planned to endorse, Khalil declined to throw his support behind his main primary challenger, second-time candidate and moderate Democrat Carolyn Long, or the Republican incumbent, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.

“We have a choice between someone who isn’t present (JHB) and someone who has no ambition for reform (CL),” Khalil wrote in a text message to The Columbian, using Herrera Beutler’s and Long’s initials.

“We also have redistricting coming after the 2020 Census. That means that our district could go from R+4 to Blue and the potential of electing someone with some real progressive vision,” Khalil said. “Would two more years of absent JHB be more destructive to our district than potential decades of a status-quo centrist with little vision for our future? I’m not certain. Party loyalty would dictate that I endorse Carolyn Long, but I’m not quite ready to make that commitment.”

Despite being the first in the 2020 race to declare a candidacy — he announced his run for the seat in early April 2019 — Khalil struggled to gain much traction among donors and local progressive groups. He ran to the left of his main primary challenger, Long, on several key issues.

In a politically purple region such as Southwest Washington, Khalil found it difficult for his cornerstone ideas to garner enough support, including single-payer “no-cost” health care and a comprehensive overhaul of campaign finance law.

That struggle was reflected in his fundraising numbers, where the latest reports to the Federal Election Commission show Khalil raising just north of $60,000 in 2019, compared to Long’s $1.07 million.

Khalil also saw his momentum stall in the race to pick up notable endorsements. Federal groups, such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund and End Citizens United, went for Long, as well as local organizations including Indivisible Greater Vancouver.

“We currently lack a sufficiently robust progressive movement — including the money, infrastructure, and human capital — for any progressive to have a path to victory in 2020,” Khalil wrote in the post to his Facebook page Saturday.

A son of Egyptian immigrants, Khalil graduated from Columbia University and Stanford University. He took his law degree (and $180,000 in student debt) to go to work on Wall Street in 2007, just in time to watch the economy crash. He says the experience shaped his view of politics.

“What I saw in Wall Street was a lot of dysfunction and a lot of corruption. I saw banks openly flouting anti-money laundering regulations,” he told The Columbian when he announced his campaign.

Khalil would later move to Vancouver, where he lives today with his wife and son. He works as a legal mediator and arbitrator at Northwest Mediation.

In person and online, Khalil would fashion himself as a Democrat in the mold of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with high-minded rhetoric and regular “screenside chats,” a nod to the former president’s famous fireside chats. In January, he endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president.

“I began this race as an FDR Democrat, dedicated to the timeless notion that respect for our institutions and love for our fellow Americans could transcend party divisions. Many of you agreed with me and I am heartened by your support,” Khalil wrote.

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“Rest assured that the conclusion of my campaign does not signal my withdrawal from public life. Quite the contrary: my life will remain a life of service. As part of that service, I will continue to be an advocate, a writer, an educator, and a commentator on the issues that matter most to our nation and to our community.”

Primary taking shape

Khalil’s resignation clears Long’s path to the primary, and likely to the general election.

The only other Democrat seeking to represent Washington’s 3rd is Rudy Atencio, a White Salmon resident and onetime supporter of the Whig party who has participated in very little traditional campaigning. He also hasn’t raised enough money to qualify for the FEC’s reporting threshold.

Long, a political science professor at Washington State University Vancouver, is so far sticking to the playbook that in 2018 brought her near striking distance against five-term incumbent Herrera Beutler. Prior to that race, Herrera Beutler hadn’t won with less than 60 percent in a re-election bid.

Long’s platform is similar to the message that helped flip dozens of other moderate districts from red to blue in the last midterm election. She’s eschewing sweeping progressive proposals in favor of measured, kitchen-table issues including a public health care option, restricting corporate tax cuts and investments in infrastructure such as broadband access.

Columbian staff writer