BATTLE GROUND – The three GOP candidates campaigning for Congress in Southwest Washington spoke of running for office as if they were headed into a war, riling up the crowd at a public forum Tuesday night.
Conservative author and speaker Heidi St. John, Army veteran Joe Kent and former Washington, D.C., staffer Wadi Yakhour have more in common than not – they’re all strong supporters of former President Donald Trump, they’re disappointed by current GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, and they share dire concerns about losing the country to “the left.”
They addressed a crowd of more than 200 people during the forum, which was hosted by the Clark County Republican Party at the Church on the Rock in Battle Ground. Nearly none of the attendees wore face masks.
Using sharp rhetoric, the candidates likened the upcoming election to combat.
“You are ready to engage in the battle,” St. John said in her opening statement. “The left is trying to take our nation off of a cliff. We are staring socialism in the face right now, we are staring Marxism and even communism, and we must do everything that we can in our power to stand against it.”
Kent also compared the political arena to a battlefield, drawing on his military experience. He said he served in 11 combat deployments over 20 years in the Army.
“In that time, I was taught to recognize patterns and can know when I’m being attacked, and our nation right now is under attack from the left,” Kent said. “And what the left is doing is very deliberate. They’re going after our family units, they’re going after our culture. They have full control of the media. They have the full control of the education system.”
Yahkour, who’s a Navy veteran, worked as special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior during the Trump administration. He likened Herrera Beutler’s more moderate brand of politics to “taking a time machine back to 10, 15 years ago, where President Trump never happened, the Democrats aren’t acting as totalitarians in our society.”
Neither Herrera Beutler nor Trump were in the room, but they – and the increasingly distinct branches of the Republican Party that they represent – still dominated the forum, where organizers gave out “Trump 2020” hats to donors.
Trump and Herrera Beutler’s tenuous political alliance ruptured on Jan. 13, when the congresswoman voted to impeach Trump over his role in the attack at the U.S. Capitol. The CCRP sided resoundingly with Trump – last month, the party’s executive council voted in favor of a resolution that formally censured the six-term congresswoman over her support for impeachment.
Trump was the subject of admiration and even adoration during Tuesday’s event; at one point, in response to Yakhour referring to Trump in passing as the former president, an attendee in the audience shouted, “He’s still my president!” and drew whoops and applause from the crowd.
The atmosphere and cross-talk between the candidates was friendly and occasionally punctuated with laughter. They had more in common than not, and shared a consensus about supporting stricter enforcement of drug laws, building a third bridge over the Columbia River and opposing abortion.
Both St. John and Kent said they believed Democrats stole the last election, a claim that has been thoroughly investigated and found to be without merit in five dozen court cases across nine states and Washington, D.C.
Kent said November’s outcome unveiled what he described as the left’s chokehold on the country.
“The way that the bureaucrats, technocrats, social media and our media moved in lockstep to take away our vote in 2020. And then they told us that we couldn’t even question it, and if we did we’d be branded as insurrectionists, fringey people, white supremacists and a host of other derogatory terms,” Kent said.
One of the only specific points of divergence was the primary election process: Though all three candidates said they’d drop out of the race and support whoever wins the Republican nomination, only St. John said she’d stick to that in the case that Herrera Beutler wins.
“This is rough, you guys. We’ve got to be honest. None of us are going to be happy if Jaime is the girl, all right? That’s why we’re here. But if you’ve got somebody who’s a complete radical leftist and wants to take away your rights … If I thought it would make it worse and not better, I would vote for Jaime again,” St. John said.
Herrera Beutler was invited to Tuesday night’s forum, according to CCRP chair Joel Mattila, but did not respond.
The tone and language Tuesday evening stood in stark contrast to a telephone town hall hosted by Herrera Beutler last week. She took that opportunity to preach bipartisanship and unity while taking questions from constituents: “Even though we have big differences, there are enough problems to go around that we can work on some together,” she said on the call.
Tuesday’s public forum was co-hosted by Activate Republicans, the party’s training and activism branch, and the website Clark County Today.
The event lasted about two hours and was followed by a meet-and-greet with the candidates in an adjoining tent.