Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Feb. 24, 2021

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Herrera Beutler’s impeachment vote sees backlash from Republicans in Clark County

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s vote Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump continues to ripple through Republican circles in Clark County, with some voters calling on local party leaders to formally renounce the congresswoman.

Joel Mattila, the new chair of the Clark County Republicans, said his “phone has been melting down the last couple of days,” since Herrera Beutler announced her intentions on Tuesday.

“And I can tell you that from old-time party regulars — people that traditionally and typically support Congresswoman Herrera Beutler — all the way down to your average ordinary everyday Republican voter, I can report to you that there is a lot of anger in the ranks because of her impeachment vote,” Mattila said.

Herrera Beutler was one of 10 Republicans to cross party lines and vote to impeach Trump for inciting a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that killed five people.

“I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail,” Herrera Beutler said in an address on the House floor before casting her vote. “My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I am not choosing a side, I’m choosing truth.”

Mattila, who was elected less than two weeks ago on a pledge to reunite the pro-Trump and more traditional wings of the party, said he doesn’t believe that Herrera Beutler’s vote will drive a wedge between those two factions. The party is united in their frustration.

“I don’t think the congresswoman did herself any favors with the party faithful,” Mattila said.

Late Thursday evening, the Clark County Republicans released a formal statement thanking Trump for his time in office and denouncing “a riot culture” on “the far Left.” A draft version of that statement didn’t condemn the congresswoman outright, though it criticized her for her decision on the House floor.

“(Herrera Beutler’s vote) directly violates our values of standing for truth and justice, and instead panders to fear-based narratives that do not represent the Clark County Republican Party, nor the constituents who elected her. This shameful behavior will only further divide our country. President Trump’s actual words clearly did not incite violence,” the draft document stated.

The county GOP’s statement, while disapproving, didn’t go full scorched-earth; that distinction belonged to the Clark County Republican Women’s group, which said Wednesday evening that Herrera Beutler “will never receive our votes or support again.” The group also swore to back a more conservative challenger in the next election.

Could Herrera Beutler — who’s held on to her seat for six terms, despite a district that inches closer to the middle with each passing year — face a serious Republican challenger in the 2022 primary?

According to Mark Stephan, an associate professor of political science at Washington State University Vancouver, Republicans seeking to unseat Herrera Beutler in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District would need to execute an extremely specific scenario.

Washington’s top-two primary system means that the two candidates with the most votes move on to the general, regardless of party. Herrera Beutler has the incumbency advantage, and would likely pull ahead in a crowded field of Republican challengers.

Once she gets to the general election, Stephan pointed out, she’ll be in a strong position regardless of whether the opposing candidate is a Democrat or a Republican; if it’s a Democrat, she’s already won that race six times. If it’s a more conservative Republican, her impeachment vote will have broadened her appeal among Democrats and moderates across the district.

There’s a lot that can happen in the next two years, Stephan cautioned. But if the congresswoman lost votes within the Republican Party for her support of impeachment, he said, it’s likely she gained even more.

“I actually think she will have helped herself,” Stephan said. “Had she not voted for impeachment at this moment, this would have been galvanizing for Democrats in this district.”

One scenario that could put the congresswoman’s seat at risk: if county Republican leaders unite behind a single conservative challenger, and the field of Democrats remains small enough to avoid vote-splitting, it’s possible that Herrera Beutler’s decision on impeachment will come back to haunt her and bump her out of the top two in the 2022 primary.

That’s a scenario that David Gellatly, head of the partisan activist group Activate Republicans Clark County, thinks will likely unfold.

“I think that’s inevitable at this point. This was probably the one single vote that Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler could make that basically would almost eliminate her chances of making her way through the primary,” Gellatly said. “People want somebody else immediately to start stepping up.”

He declined to speculate on the record on who he believes might take that mantle.

“There’s a pool of names that are very likely,” Gellatly said.

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