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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Former Clark County Republican vice chair bucks party, backs Democrat for 3rd District

By Jim Brunner, The Seattle Times
Published: October 12, 2022, 8:35am

Until last month, Kathy McDonald was vice chair of the Clark County Republican Party, describing herself as a die-hard Donald Trump supporter with a long record of activism in the GOP.

But this week, McDonald is co-hosting a meet-and-greet fundraiser for Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, the Democratic candidate for Congress in southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.

What’s going on?

McDonald says she can’t bring herself to support Joe Kent, the Republican candidate, citing his extreme rhetoric and plans to focus on ideological warfare against Democrats and establishment Republicans if elected.

Such talk might garner Kent national attention as a flamethrower like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz — both of whom Kent has campaigned with — but McDonald said it’s not a recipe for addressing local concerns, such as replacing the Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland.

“If you piss everybody in the world off, like Joe will do, you can’t move the ball forward,” said McDonald, who resigned her county party position Sept. 25. “How much is Marjorie Taylor Greene getting done?”

McDonald’s defection, which caught other Clark County GOP leaders by surprise, spotlights the discomfort Kent has generated for a segment of Republicans — and some independents — who backed U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, only to see her ousted in the August primary in a backlash over her Trump impeachment vote.

Kent, an ex-Green Beret combat veteran who has vowed to impeach Joe Biden and refuse to compromise with Democrats, dismisses such defections as few and far between, saying they mostly consist of “Never Trump” Republicans who were never going to back him.

It’s not clear how many Herrera Beutler voters will cross party lines to vote for Gluesenkamp Perez in November. McDonald is among only a relative few who have publicly vowed to cross over.

Another is Julie Olson, a two-term Republican member of the Clark County Council, who strongly supported Herrera Beutler for reelection but is now endorsing Gluesenkamp Perez.

While politics is generally a team sport, Olson said she can’t support Kent, calling him “a person who has an inability to connect with reality.” She cited his continued denial of the 2020 presidential election results and comments about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olson said Kent’s goal appears to be to go to Washington, D.C., “not just to be a disrupter, but to be a destroyer.”

David Nierenberg, a Camas investment manager and major GOP fundraiser who backed Herrera Beutler, is now raising money for Gluesenkamp Perez.

“On the issues of the day, (Kent) is a radical extremist, and he continues to show poor judgment with the people he associates with,” Nierenberg said, pointing to media reports of Kent’s association with white nationalists and calls for a ban on legal immigration. “I don’t want to be represented by somebody like that.”

Nierenberg was a national campaign finance chair for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign but subsequently supported Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden against Trump.

Kent has attacked Nierenberg as a part of the “corporate ruling class” and not representative of the America First Republican base.

“They’re trying to make it look like bunch of Republicans, because of these attacks, because I am some sort of a secret neo-Nazi are now jumping ship and going over and supporting this great Democratic candidate. That’s not the truth,” Kent said last week on the “War Room” podcast of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who derided Nierenberg as “one of these Romney blowhards.”

Joel Mattila, chair of the Clark County Republican Party, said he was blindsided by McDonald’s resignation and decision to support Gluesenkamp Perez.

“Here is the thing. Marie is going to be another vote for the radical agenda of Nancy Pelosi. There is no way that any kind of Republican in my opinion can support that,” Mattila said.

Mattila said there are “very few defectors” and that “most of the Republicans I know are 1,000 percent behind Joe Kent” who “is going to stand for the values that we as Americans hold dear.”

The state GOP has officially endorsed Kent, along with the Clark County GOP.

In other states, some Republican leaders have come out publicly for Democrats in races featuring far-right candidates. In Michigan, for example, more than 150 prominent Republicans endorsed incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer against Trump-backed challenger Tudor Dixon.

Deanna Rusch, a Vancouver attorney, is a former Republican who volunteered for John McCain’s presidential campaign but now counts herself an independent. She supported Herrera Beutler in the primary and said she was shocked when the six-term incumbent was defeated.

Rusch said Kent, who has called for Dr. Anthony Fauci to be arrested for murder, is a bad fit for a district that has been Republican-leaning but not far-right conservative. “He certainly doesn’t represent my viewpoints. I don’t believe he represents the viewpoints of the majority of the district,” she said.

Kent recently said the August primary results prove otherwise.

“The clear message that we sent to the establishment and Washington, D.C., and really to the entire country, is that Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, that is a stone’s throw away from Portland … is not just Republican, not just conservative — we are deep red MAGA country,” he said at a conference featuring 2020 election deniers last month in Vancouver.

Ozzie Gonzalez, Kent’s campaign manager, said the campaign is “not worried” about the dissident Republicans, and noted that some major donors to Herrera Beutler have met with Kent and are supporting him.

In a statement, Gluesenkamp Perez said she welcomes the support of Herrera Beutler voters, saying she “will never disparage or write off moderate Republicans for not agreeing with me 100 percent of the time. My campaign is about listening in good faith, about building bridges and finding common ground, because I know that’s how you deliver results and solve problems.”

While polling in the race has been scarce, national political analysts are predicting Kent is likely to win the 3rd District seat.

That worries McDonald, who has worked and volunteered in GOP politics for decades, including as an aide to ex-Rep. Linda Smith, who represented the 3rd District from 1995 to 1999.

“We cannot have somebody that is just espousing conspiracy theories or hatred for Fauci,” she said, adding that she’s not a fan of the immunologist herself.

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For her stance, McDonald said, she’s gotten screamed at by a Republican acquaintance, who berated her over the phone about the need to maintain party loyalty.

But McDonald said she wants a congressional representative who is capable of reaching across the aisle — a notion Kent has rejected. “I am thinking about what’s best for our community, not necessarily our party,” she said.

She doesn’t think control of the House will rest on the 3rd District outcome, adding if a Kent loss does cost the GOP a majority, “I will eat crow and feel real bad.”

Ballots for the Nov. 8 general election will be mailed to voters by Oct. 21.