Within a day of flipping Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez was on a plane to Washington, D.C., for the first time since ninth grade.
Multiple media outlets called the race late Saturday afternoon, as Perez, D-Stevenson, held onto her lead over Donald Trump-endorsed Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, in an election that was tapped as one of the biggest midterm upsets.
Ballot tallies on Monday showed Perez had 157,365 votes, or 50.24 percent, while Kent had 154,097 votes, or 49.2 percent, a margin of 3,268 votes with 3,703 ballots left to be processed in all counties except Thurston, which includes only a small portion of the 3rd District.
There were 1,747 write-in votes, or 0.57 percent.
Political analysis tool FiveThirtyEight originally gave Perez a 2 percent chance of winning the congressional race. It said Kent was “clearly favored” to win the district, based on a scant number of political polling leading to the election and the region’s history of leaning Republican.
Perez will be the first Democrat to fill Southwest Washington’s congressional seat since former Rep. Brian Baird retired in 2010. She will succeed Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who won election to the seat in 2010 and has represented the district ever since.
“It’s pretty wild and surreal,” Perez told The Columbian, nodding to how quickly she hit the ground running after hearing Saturday’s results.
On Sunday, Perez landed in D.C. to attend a new member orientation and meet her future House colleagues. The “nuts and bolts” of what she’s learning closely resembles the ins and outs of running a small business, from establishing budgets to organizing a district office, Perez said.
“I think people in my district want a Congress that looks like America,” Perez told MSNBC on Monday. “They want Congress with a little bit of grease under their fingernails who knows how to fix things, and I was the candidate who could fit that role.”
Perez said her top priority in Congress is to support small businesses, where both parties have “failed to deliver a level playing field that works for everyone.” She continued, saying issues that affect people’s quality of life must be resolved, such as growing crime rates.
Early in the campaign trail, Perez cemented her promise to “fix things” for Southwest Washington, a region mostly comprised of rural communities where Democratic messages struggled to have a stronghold other than in its most populous city.
Perez, who co-owns a Portland auto shop with her husband, said the disconnect stemmed from candidates not reflecting the 3rd District’s trade-oriented reality. As a rural Democrat, Perez said she would defy this history. She ran on protecting abortion rights, supporting trade jobs, restoring the region’s economy and tackling climate change. She opposes an assault-style rifle ban but backs raising the age to buy these guns to 21.
After Perez and Kent edged Herrera Beutler from advancing to the general election, political analysts said appealing to the incumbent’s moderate Republican base would be pivotal in their success. Perez told MSNBC that she was proud to have support from these moderates who voted with “patriotism, not partisanship” in mind, subsequently contributing to her triumph.
CNN’s Poppy Harlow asked Perez how she would continue to uphold her campaign promises in the new role.
“I live on a gravel road, I get my water from a well (and) I get my internet from a radio tower,” Perez replied. “I am one of the working moms that can’t find day care. I brought my baby to work with us to the auto shop. I mean, that changes who you are, and that changes your priorities.”
Perez defeated Kent, a former Green Beret wielding a Trump endorsement who was projected to be among many Republicans nationwide to outperform Democrats during midterm elections.
In the face of Kent’s loss, he is resolute on “curing” rejected ballots, which are caused by minor voter errors such as omitting ID information or a signature.
As of Monday, Kent has not conceded, and his campaign did not return The Columbian’s request for a comment.
Perez said it’s reasonable to wait until additional votes come in and cure rejected ballots, but she expects Kent to maintain his previous pledge.
“He said repeatedly that he would accept the results of the elections. I’m hopeful that we see that here,” she said.