An election that astute observers have their eye on in Washington this year is the contest for the 3rd Congressional District in the state’s southwest communities. Washington’s 3rd encompasses Lewis, Wahkiakum, Pacific, Clark, Skamania, Cowlitz and Klickitat counties along with a portion of Thurston County.
Cowlitz County, home to Kelso and Longview, is a key battleground within the district, where companies like Weyerhaeuser play a large role in the economy.
Chronic economic insecurity in the area has altered the region’s electoral dynamics. While southwest Washington has long been home to a blue collar unionized workforce, that workforce has shrunk in recent years.
The 3rd Congressional District has elected both Democrats and Republicans to the United States House in the past twenty years. Democrat Brian Baird represented the district before incumbent Jaime Herrera-Beutler, and he was preceded by Republican Linda Smith, who gave up her seat to run against Patty Murray.
Since 2011, the 3rd has been represented by Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, as mentioned. In 2016, Herrera Beutler won with 61.8% of the vote against her general election opponent, former state legislator Jim Moeller.
But in 2018, Herrera Beutler won with a much smaller majority (52.7%) against Carolyn Long, a tenured professor in the School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at Washington State University-Vancouver.
Long’s campaign turned heads with a surprisingly strong showing in the August 2018 Top Two election, causing many observers to start watching the 3rd District more closely. Although Long did not ultimately prevail over Herrera-Beutler in 2018, she is now running for United States Representative again… and this time, she has the benefit of having started much earlier.
Herrera-Beutler’s other opponents include Devin Gray, Davy Ray, and Martin Hash.
They are likely to be eliminated in the August Top Two election, leaving only Herrera-Beutler and Long in the November general election runoff.
SwingLeft, a group that works to elect more and better Democrats, characterizes the 3rd as winnable and argues Long is well positioned to be victorious in 2020.
WA-03 is usually competitive, with the areas near Portland leaning more Democratic than rural areas. Trump won the district by 7 points (49.9% to Clinton’s 42.5%). In 2000, Bush won with 48% and was re-elected with 50%. Obama swung the district in 2008 with 52% of the vote. Redistricting extended the district further to the east, resulting in a higher concentration of Republican voters. Romney won with 49.6% in 2012.
Carolyn Long has a strong background in education. She has been a professor at Washington State University for twenty-four years, and has worked at the University in various administrative and leadership roles since 1995. Long grew up in a rural community on the Washington state coast and was a member of the UFCW 555 while a student, which allowed her to fund her undergraduate education.
Long has amassed an impressive war chest for a challenger.
As Oregon Public Broadcasting reported back in April:
Long raised $538,375 over the past three months, compared with Herrera Beutler’s $435,615. Dating back to October, Long has raised a total of $1.6 million to Herrera Beutler’s $1.3 million.
However, Herrera Beutler holds an advantage in overall funds. The incumbent had a six-month head start in fundraising, helping her raise close to $2 million in her campaign since last year. She still has more cash-on-hand, too: $1.3 million to Long’s $1.1 million.
Long has emphasized her support for vote at home, a public healthcare option, and getting big money out of politics as major themes of her 2020 campaign.
She has also spoken out in support of police reform and Black Lives Matter, while Herrera-Beutler has been conspicuously silent even as other Republican incumbents facing difficult reelections weigh in.
Running during a presidential election year, and with a well funded and highly regarded Democratic opponent, Herrera Buetler is in the fight of her political life. Though the contest in the 3rd doesn’t receive a lot of attention in the Seattle media market, it could easily be Washington’s hottest race this cycle.
Two issues not mentioned in this summary of the 3rd Congressional District race may be pivotal in determining the outcome: COVID-19 and the recession. November will see continuing record unemployment and rising hospitalizations in our region. Employment will not recover while the virus remains uncontained and the virus will not be controlled without the political will to do so. Without a vaccine, the question will be which party is best able to successfully control the virus and resume a more normal economic turn around. The answer will be evident even in the 3rd District that the party of Trump and Herrera-Beutler has failed and that changes need to be made.