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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Will GOP voters support Perez?

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: October 9, 2022, 6:02am

For Republicans in Southwest Washington, it is a conundrum.

Congressional candidate Joe Kent wants to charge Dr. Anthony Fauci with murder, finds common cause with white nationalists, says jailed insurrectionists are “political prisoners,” favors a national abortion ban and willingly embraces and promotes conspiracy theories. Jan. 6, in his mind, “reeks of an intelligence operation.”

Kent is an extremist. But for Republicans he’s their extremist, having finished ahead of five-term incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler in the primary and advancing to the general election. And at least he’s not a Democrat.

So as Kent runs for Congress, as he faces Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez in the general election, as he stands as a linchpin for GOP hopes of regaining the majority in the House of Representatives, what is a reasonable Republican voter to do? Support a candidate just because he has an R next to his name, or violate the presumed laws of nature and vote for a Democrat?

“They should vote in the 3rd Congressional District for Marie,” says David Nierenberg.

Nierenberg is not some Democratic operative sent to infiltrate conservative thought. He is a Clark County investor who has serious Republican bona fides, such as being the finance chair for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. He is a prominent donor to political candidates and causes — typically, but not exclusively, Republican candidates and causes.

Yet despite his party affiliation, Nierenberg sees through Kent’s façade.

“He is telegenic; he can be charming; he can be smoothly articulate, enough that I can say ‘this man could be a friend,’ ” Nierenberg said. “But when I hit pause, I have concerns that lead me to support Marie and raise money for Marie.”

Nierenberg has helped raise more than $100,000 for Perez’s campaign. And while money can translate into political speech, it’s Nierenberg’s words that carry more impact.

He speaks of the “preservation of our precious democracy” along with Kent’s “lack of respect for facts” and damaging immigration policies and “the people he has chosen to keep company with.” That includes Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona, who have mastered incendiary rhetoric but shown little ability to legislate.

But mostly, Nierenberg speaks of Kent’s denial of the 2020 election results, which ignores the fact that some 60 lawsuits in support of a disgraced president yielded no evidence of fraud. “These people are deniers of facts,” he said. “It’s absolutely outrageous, dangerous. This is frightening; this is the American analogy to the Reichstag fire which brought the Nazis to power in Germany. The right-wing conspiracies with which Joe Kent associates himself cannot separate fact from fiction.”

Fiction, however, is a feature and not a bug for many voters. And while the race between Kent and Perez has garnered significant attention as it has been portrayed as a microcosm of national politics, there is something more at play here. There is the question of how many Republicans in Southwest Washington — those who profess to believe in small government and personal responsibility and traditional values and fiscal responsibility — will free themselves from the yoke of Trumpism and vote for a Democrat.

“I think everybody needs to do their homework and make their own decisions,” said Kathy McDonald, who is leading by example. She was vice chair of the Clark County Republican Party until recently, before leaving the organization and supporting Perez.

“I am about civility and building community,” McDonald said. “I don’t see that in him. When you legislate, you have to come to the table and have a conversation.”

Which, when you think about it, points to the difference in this race. Kent wants to metaphorically burn everything down, telling the New York Times, “I used to work in the federal government. It can shut down. It’s really not a big deal.”

Some local Republicans, at least, would prefer to build things up.