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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Herrera Beutler, Perez lead in 3rd congressional race

Democratic newcomer biggest vote-getter in high-profile race

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 2, 2022, 11:04pm

Initial primary results from Southwest Washington’s congressional race released Tuesday are showing that Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Skamania will likely advance to the general election.

Primary results Tuesday provided some hope for Democrats who wish to flip the traditionally red district. According to the Washington Secretary of State, Perez is leading the race with 31.77 percent of the vote, followed by Herrera Beutler with 24.48 percent out of 107,748 votes cast.

Among the multiple other Republican candidates crowding the field, Joe Kent of Yacolt received 20.11 percent, Republican Heidi St. John of Battle Ground received 15.08 percent and state Rep. Vicki Kraft of Vancouver, 3.21 percent.

“You know, this is a really clear statement from Southwest Washington that they are tired of the status quo,” Perez said.

Perez crafted her campaign to emphasize working-class needs and address the district’s economic prosperity. Perez, who co-owns an auto body shop with her husband, touted her degree in economics and local political involvement as qualities that made her fit to be the region’s representative.

Conservative enthusiasm dwindled for Herrera Beutler when she joined nine fellow House Republicans to vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Despite rallying cries demanding her removal from the position, Herrera Beutler appears to have defeated any challenges the backlash may have presented — at least until the general election.

Yet these are the congresswoman’s lowest primary results to date.

“I came in tonight cautiously optimistic and remain cautiously optimistic,” Herrera Beutler said. “Obviously, we are not done.”

Herrera Beutler emphasized she would remain steadfast as “the local congresswoman” who focuses on regional issues, asserting that it’s what earned her wins in previous elections. Conversely, Perez pointed to the results as an indication that constituents are tired of bureaucratic maneuvers and desire authenticity.

“I have been myself this whole time, and that’s a really powerful position to be in,” she said.

Kent supporters remained optimistic at his election party Tuesday evening in Battle Ground, yet bits of dismay leaked through.

Kent, a former Green Beret, spearheaded his “America First” campaign by wielding an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. However, his mission to dismantle “the establishment,” or politicians who are plotting against the public through policy, may not be a certain reality. Perez’s lead came as a surprise.

“I’m confident, though, that we did everything that we could do,” Kent said. “I don’t know much else we could have done differently. I’m happy with my performance.”

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St. John did not return The Columbian’s request for a comment.

More ballots remain to be counted, with 40,000 in Clark County alone. Voter turnout based on ballots tallied so far is 20.81 percent, according to Clark County Elections. The next results are expected to be released at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Southwest Washington’s top two finishers will face off in the Nov. 8 general election. Certified election results will be reported by the Washington Secretary of State on Aug. 18.

Money flooded into the race — some of which was dumped into a candidate’s campaign recently, sparking controversy between different camps.

Herrera Beutler swept her challengers in campaign financing with a total $3.5 million, with Kent lagging behind with $2.2 million. Recent unease settled over congressional candidates, as more than $700,000 of funding from an ambiguous super PAC was dumped into St. John’s campaign — bumping her past the $1 million threshold. Conversely, the region’s Democratic contender pulled in more than $240,000.

Both Perez and Kent were dubious of the outside spending, from East Coast group “Conservatives for a Strong America,” and claimed it was designed to benefit the incumbent’s campaign by splitting votes among the top Republican challengers. Herrera Beutler has not commented on this claim, nor has St. John.

The congressional district, which encompasses Skamania, Lewis, Pacific, Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties and a portion of Thurston County, received nationwide attention after Trump became involved by backing Kent.

The list of candidates vying for the position was dizzying, as eight hopefuls filed to unseat the six-term incumbent. Although the campaign trail was loaded, there were key figures who emerged from the noise, including Kent, St. John and Perez.

Republicans dominated the race, most of whom echoed similar visions for Southwest Washington that involved bolstering law enforcement, cracking down on southern border security and reviving “true” conservatism.

Columbian staff writer