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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

3rd District candidate Leslie Lewallen opens office in Camas

Republican congressional hopeful is also a Camas city councilor

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 2, 2024, 6:07am
7 Photos
Leslie Lewallen, center, who is running as a Republican to represent the 3rd Congressional District, talks with supporters at her campaign headquarters in Camas on Friday afternoon.
Leslie Lewallen, center, who is running as a Republican to represent the 3rd Congressional District, talks with supporters at her campaign headquarters in Camas on Friday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — Supporters gathered Friday afternoon to help Leslie Lewallen decorate her campaign’s new offices in downtown Camas.

The Camas city councilor is running as a Republican to unseat incumbent 3rd Congressional District Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania. First, though, Lewallen must face Joe Kent — a Yacolt Republican who narrowly lost to Perez in 2022 — in August’s primary election.

“Today’s opening sends a clear signal that our momentum is real, and our base is engaged and excited,” Lewallen said in a statement.

Her campaign office at 534 N.E. Everett St. sits just around the corner from the Camas Public Library. Over snacks, Lewallen and her supporters discussed the campaign ahead.

“Leslie is a true leader,” Camas City Council member and Lewallen supporter Jennifer Senescu said. “She’s more than just a politician. She has deep roots here, and she really cares about the people in this district.”

Stephen Dabasinska, who ran for Camas City Council in 2023, agreed. He helped Lewallen run for the council in 2020. He saw her “knock on thousands of doors,” he said, and was impressed by her work ethic.

“She’s done everything as a council member that she said she would when she was running,” he said. “You don’t see that very often.”

Despite Kent’s early fundraising lead, Lewallen claims she is the only candidate who can unseat Perez. Lewallen reported having roughly $140,000 on hand at the end of 2023, compared with the $2.1 million and $530,000 that Perez and Kent reported, respectively.

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“Late last summer, I entered this race with passion and a vision. In the past six months, we’ve grown from a small group huddled around my kitchen table to a broad and dynamic coalition of supporters determined to reclaim this seat,” Lewallen said in a statement. “In the 2022 primary, over 100,000 voters said ‘no’ to Joe Kent’s extreme positions, and he went on to lose the election in November.”

Republicans are eager to regain the seat Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler held for 12 years. Kent bested the incumbent in a 2022 primary challenge but then lost in the general election to the unheralded Perez, a self-described moderate Democrat.

Rematches that result in a flipped outcome are rare. Lewallen argues that Kent had his chance in 2022. Now, she’s running “for everyday Washingtonians who feel like their voice has been taken from them,” she said.

“I want to give voice to the people of Southwest Washington,” she said. “Anything that silences voters, I am against.”

Democrats ‘failing’

Lewallen decided to run for Camas City Council at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the schools shut down in 2020, my children fell apart,” the mother of four said. “I saw the people and the values in the country I love just kind of falling apart and disintegrating, and I decided at that point I was going to do something about it.”

Lewallen’s platform focuses on addressing homelessness, addiction and crime while limiting government budgets and promoting sustainability. She said she is running for the next generation so they don’t have to live with the problems that people in Southwest Washington face today.

A vocal critic of Perez and Democrats, Lewallen claims the Biden administration is responsible for Southwest Washington’s ills, including the fentanyl epidemic and rising rates of homelessness and crime.

“Families can’t thrive under the failing policies of Democrats, and that’s why I’m in this fight,” she said in a news release. “It’s also the reason I recently endorsed Donald Trump. It’s time to unite as a party and rally around the candidate who will get this country back on track after four disastrous years under Joe Biden’s leadership.”

Lewallen agrees with Kent on a host of issues, but not all. Foreign policy is one of the biggest distinctions, she said.

Take border security, for example. Like Kent, Lewallen advocates for securing the border, but she did not support the U.S. Senate’s failed $118 billion border and foreign aid bill, nor does she support the bipartisan Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act co-introduced by Perez, claiming the compromise bills are unaffordable and loose on border security.

However, Lewallen rejects Kent’s “tendency toward isolationism,” instead emphasizing the importance of “good working relationships with our trading partners to the north and south for the sake of Washington farmers.”

“I am an America First candidate,” she said. “Joe Kent is America Alone.”

The Washington Republican Party has officially endorsed Kent, as has every county Republican group in the district. Former President Donald Trump endorsed Kent in 2022, but he has not yet endorsed Kent in this election.

Lewallen criticized the early endorsement, saying the decision to rally around a single candidate so early in the race pushed out other voices.

“He should not have taken that endorsement,” she said of Kent.

Lewallen has racked up some big-name endorsements herself, including former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna; former Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed; Endeavor PAC Chair Tiffany Smiley; King County Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn; Camas City Councilor Tim Hein; retired Camas police chief and Camas City Councilor Don Chaney; and former 3rd Congressional District candidate Heidi St. John.

A graduate of the University of Washington and Seattle University law school, Lewallen started her career as a judicial clerk for Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander before spending years as a deputy prosecutor for King County.

Lewallen later pivoted to private law, where she focused on land use, property rights and environmental law, according to her Camas City Council biography.

In 2003, Lewallen retired from law to focus on her family, who moved to Camas in 2018. In 2021, Lewallen ran for and won a seat on the city council.