NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, September 4th, 2022

Jaime Herrera Beutler lost because WA-03 is becoming a more normal, nationalized district

When the final results showed incum­bent Repub­li­can Con­gress­woman Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler nar­row­ly com­ing in third place in the Top Two elec­tion behind Trump-endorsed Repub­li­can chal­lenger Joe Kent, it may have marked the end of an era for WA-03. At the very least, it was a notable point in the district’s con­tin­u­al shift towards being a less unique, more nation­al­ized dis­trict, the same direc­tion that so many dis­tricts across the coun­try have shifted.

The his­toric unique­ness of WA-03 is root­ed in the fact that both par­ties have a large amal­ga­ma­tion of dif­fer­ent coali­tions in the district.

The dis­trict cov­ers areas that have long been Repub­li­can, like Lewis Coun­ty. It stretch­es out to the coast, con­tain­ing Pacif­ic Coun­ty and vot­ers who are reliant on the fish­ing and oys­ter indus­tries. It includes many ances­tral­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic rur­al vot­ers that now often vote Repub­li­can and, when they vot­ed blue, tend­ed to be more con­ser­v­a­tive than urban and sub­ur­ban Democrats.

The dis­trict extends to cen­tral Wash­ing­ton, going as far east as Klick­i­tat Coun­ty in the pre­vi­ous dis­trict lines, though it now only extends as far east as Ska­ma­nia Coun­ty. WA-03 is anchored in and by Clark Coun­ty, which nor­mal­ly encom­pass­es over six­ty per­cent of the district’s voters.

Clark Coun­ty includes many Van­cou­ver vot­ers that more and more vote like res­i­dents of oth­er big city sub­urbs, but the coun­ty also has more con­ser­v­a­tive exur­ban vot­ers in its out­er parts, in towns such as Bat­tle Ground. There are towns his­tor­i­cal­ly reliant on the tim­ber indus­try through­out the dis­trict. The dis­trict is most­ly white, but does have sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of Asian and Lati­no voters.

Jaime Herrera Beutler at an AWB event

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler signs the AWB Man­u­fac­tur­ing Week Bus dur­ing its stop at Great West­ern Malt­ing in Van­cou­ver on Fri­day, Octo­ber 12th 2018. (Pho­to: Bri­an Mittge/AWB, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

WA-03 is also notable for its tax sen­si­tiv­i­ty, because many towns in the dis­trict are par­tic­u­lar­ly reliant on small busi­ness­es and because many vot­ers move to the area to take advan­tage of Washington’s lack of income tax and Oregon’s lack of sales tax.

Before Her­rera Beut­ler rep­re­sent­ed South­west Wash­ing­ton in Con­gress, WA-03 was held by Demo­c­rat Bri­an Baird, who — like Her­rera Beut­ler — was known for his will­ing­ness to break ranks in Con­gress. He spoke out against Demo­c­ra­t­ic House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi and was crit­i­cal of the Oba­ma-Biden administration’s fis­cal agen­da. Like Her­rera Beut­ler, he alien­at­ed mem­bers of both his own par­ty and of the oth­er par­ty, only to win reelec­tion comfortably.

Baird won his last elec­tion in 2008 by a colos­sal twen­ty-eight-point mar­gin in what was a great night for Democ­rats. Oba­ma-Biden won WA-03 in that same elec­tion as well, but trailed Baird’s mar­gin by around twen­ty points.

Her­rera Beut­ler was first elect­ed to Con­gress in 2010 in an elec­tion that saw Democ­rats lose dozens of seats across the country.

Pow­ered by a coali­tion of vot­ers that would be unimag­in­able today, she beat Den­ny Heck by six points, with an eleven-point mar­gin in Clark Coun­ty and a thir­ty-four-point romp­ing in Lewis Coun­ty to more than off­set Heck’s large vic­to­ries in Pacif­ic Coun­ty and in the more pro­gres­sive Olympia-Lacy-Tumwa­ter area. The Con­gress­woman was elect­ed on a mes­sage of low­er­ing tax­es for busi­ness­es and res­i­dents, low­er­ing the nation­al debt and oppos­ing health­care reform. This rep­u­ta­tion would stick with her in Con­gress for years to come.

Redis­trict­ing gift­ed Her­rera Beut­ler a more Repub­li­can dis­trict begin­ning in the 2012 cycle, with most of the Olympia-Lacy-Tumwa­ter core giv­en to the new­ly formed 10th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict (WA-10).

Her­rera Beut­ler won by over twen­ty points in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

She defeat­ed Demo­c­rat Jon Hau­gen in 2012 by near­ly twen­ty-one points while Repub­li­can Mitt Rom­ney car­ried her dis­trict by just two points. She then cruised to a twen­ty-three-point vic­to­ry in 2014 over Demo­c­rat Bob Dingethal.

The 2016 elec­tion was a water­shed elec­tion in many dis­tricts, and WA-03 was no excep­tion. Her­rera Beut­ler refused to endorse Trump in 2016, but this evi­dent­ly did not hurt her in the gen­er­al elec­tion that year, as she rolled to a twen­ty-four ‑point vic­to­ry over Demo­c­rat Jim Moeller.

That same elec­tion, Trump won the dis­trict by sev­en points.

In a trend that was observ­able across Amer­i­ca in 2016, the rur­al com­mu­ni­ties in WA-03 exhib­it­ed gar­gan­tu­an shifts towards Trump com­pared to Romney’s 2012 mar­gins. For exam­ple, Cowlitz Coun­ty vot­ed for a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date (by four­teen points!) for the first time since 1980.

Pacif­ic Coun­ty vot­ed for the Repub­li­can for the first time since 1950.

All in all, while Clark Coun­ty bare­ly budged (and made up over 60% of the dis­trict that elec­tion), the parts of the dis­trict out­side of Clark Coun­ty went from sup­port­ing Rom­ney by a five-point mar­gin to sup­port­ing Trump by over 20 points.

Her­rera Beut­ler out­per­formed Trump in every coun­ty in 2016, and in most by dou­ble dig­its. But many WA-03 vot­ers showed their will­ing­ness to split their tick­et not only by vot­ing for Her­rera Beut­ler and Clin­ton, but also by vot­ing for both the Con­gress­woman and Demo­c­rat Pat­ty Mur­ray in the Sen­ate elec­tion, who lost WA-03 by only around one point.

Senator Patty Murray speaks at the 2022 Washington State Democratic Convention

Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray deliv­ers an address at the evening gala ban­quet of the 2022 Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­ven­tion (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)​

Mur­ray won Clark Coun­ty 51% to 49%, nar­row­ly out­per­form­ing Clin­ton there, but also won many ances­tral­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic Trump vot­ers in the dis­trict — or at least vast­ly out­per­formed Clin­ton among them — even win­ning Pacif­ic Coun­ty 55% to 45%. Mur­ray out­per­formed Clin­ton by thir­teen points in the non-Clark Coun­ty parts of WA-03.

2018 was a Demo­c­ra­t­ic wave year, and Her­rera Beut­ler — rep­re­sent­ing a dis­trict Trump only won by sin­gle dig­its — was a tar­get for the Democ­rats. The Con­gress­woman was able to fend off well-fund­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Car­olyn Long by argu­ing that she had pro­vid­ed tax cuts for con­stituents, sup­port­ed small busi­ness­es, stopped tolls on the Colum­bia Riv­er and some­times coop­er­at­ed with Democ­rats to get leg­is­la­tion passed.

She was not as vul­ner­a­ble to attacks on health­care that many oth­er Repub­li­cans suf­fered from because she vot­ed against repeal­ing the Patient Pro­tec­tion and Afford­able Care Act in 2017. Still, Long attacked Her­rera Beut­ler for vot­ing numer­ous times to take away health­care from Americans.

Her­rera Beut­ler won by just over five points, but it came at a cost.

The incum­bent won the dis­trict the same way a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date would. She lost Clark Coun­ty by two points, but ran up the score else­where in the dis­trict, par­tic­u­lar­ly in ruby red Lewis County.

Her­rera Beutler’s vic­to­ry in Lewis Coun­ty was so large that she net­ted over 7,000 more votes over Long in Lewis Coun­ty than Long net­ted over Her­rera Beut­ler in Clark Coun­ty, even though Clark Coun­ty made up 63% of the elec­torate and Lewis Coun­ty made up just eleven per­cent of it that election.

Lewis Coun­ty makes it very dif­fi­cult for Democ­rats to win WA-03, and this dynam­ic will be a prob­lem for Democ­rats in the dis­trict for years to come.

Her­rera Beut­ler vot­ed against both arti­cles to impeach Trump dur­ing his first impeach­ment in 2019 and vot­ed for him in 2020.

Car­olyn Long ran against her again, but could not muster the same sup­port she did two years ear­li­er, los­ing to the Con­gress­woman by thir­teen points.

Mean­while, Biden-Har­ris lost the dis­trict, but by just four points.

Once again, Biden-Har­ris won Clark Coun­ty, but could not keep up with gar­gan­tu­an Repub­li­can mar­gins elsewhere.

Her­rera Beut­ler out­per­formed Trump across the dis­trict, and did so the most in the Port­land sub­urbs, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Ridge­field and Camas.

It was always going to be dif­fi­cult for Her­rera Beut­ler to main­tain her bipar­ti­san sup­port and inde­pen­dent appeal while not mak­ing her pro-Trump base vot­ers angry. Numer­ous Repub­li­cans have had this prob­lem across the country.

After the events of Jan­u­ary 6th, Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler loud­ly crit­i­cized Don­ald Trump, argu­ing that he played a major role in the event.

She was one of ten House Repub­li­cans to vote to impeach Trump.

It drew the ire of many Repub­li­can vot­ers and Trump him­self. Repub­li­cans lined up to chal­lenge her, and Trump endorsed Repub­li­can Joe Kent.

Her­rera Beutler’s record and pol­i­cy posi­tions did not shield her from anger over her anti-Trump stance. In the end, five Repub­li­cans — includ­ing the Con­gress­woman her­self — were on the bal­lot, along with two Democrats.

The Democ­rats coa­lesced around Marie Glue­senkamp Perez, who won first place with 31%. The anti-Her­rera Beut­ler vote was divid­ed, but not enough to save the incum­bent. When all of the votes were count­ed, Kent took 22.8% while Her­rera Beut­ler took 22.3%, putting Kent over the incum­bent by just over one thou­sand votes. Hei­di St. John, anoth­er pro-Trump Repub­li­can, took 16%.

Liz Cheney speaking at a press event

Liz Cheney speak­ing at a press event (Offi­cial photo)

Many peo­ple have com­pared Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler to Liz Cheney for their crit­i­cism of Trump. But they also have in com­mon that they both lost their seats with coali­tions of sup­port that looked like those of a Democrat.

The only two coun­ties Liz Cheney won in her pri­ma­ry were the same two that Biden-Har­ris won in Wyoming in the 2020 Gen­er­al Election.

In fact, in many recent Repub­li­can pri­maries, the can­di­date who is con­sid­ered more rea­son­able has per­formed bet­ter than the Trump-endorsed can­di­date in more Demo­c­ra­t­ic areas.

In WA-03, Democ­rats could eas­i­ly vote for the Repub­li­can anti-Trump cru­sad­er in a Top Two elec­tion, which almost cer­tain­ly com­pound­ed this phe­nom­e­non.

Her­rera Beut­ler beat Kent in ances­tral­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic Pacif­ic Coun­ty by three points and beat him by one point in Clark County.

But, like Her­rera Beut­ler did in the 2018 gen­er­al elec­tion, Kent ran up the score in Lewis Coun­ty. Her­rera Beut­ler net­ted 1,498 votes over Kent in Clark County.

He net­ted 1,458 over her in Lewis Coun­ty, effec­tive­ly can­cel­ing out her Clark Coun­ty mar­gin, despite the fact that Lewis Coun­ty made up just 11% of the dis­trict and Clark Coun­ty made up 64%.

Kent also per­formed extra­or­di­nar­i­ly well in Thurston Coun­ty, tak­ing 33%, com­pared to 19% for Her­rera Beut­ler, net­ting 1,269 votes over the incum­bent, despite the fact it made up just 4% of the district.

Pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty was a big indi­ca­tor of sup­port for Her­rera Beut­ler. Although Kent out­per­formed Her­rera Beut­ler in Bat­tle­ground and Washou­gal, Her­rera Beut­ler tend­ed to do best in the towns, par­tic­u­lar­ly on I‑5.

Her­rera Beut­ler received more votes than Kent in Van­cou­ver, Camas, Ridge­field, Kala­ma, Kel­so, Longview and Long Beach. Even while get­ting destroyed in Lewis Coun­ty, Her­rera Beut­ler edged out Kent in both Cen­tralia and Chehalis.

Her­rera Beut­ler is a vic­tim of the fact that the Repub­li­can coali­tion in her dis­trict became increas­ing­ly rur­al. She became reliant on pro-Trump vot­ers who saved her in 2018, and as a result, when she broke with and then con­tin­ued to crit­i­cize Trump, she scared them away and no longer had enough votes to win.

This is a coun­try­wide trend and is a symp­tom of the fact that WA-03 is becom­ing a more nor­mal and nation­al­ized dis­trict, which now has the stan­dard Amer­i­can polit­i­cal divide based on pop­u­la­tion density.

But still, many vot­ers could see Repub­li­can Joe Kent as too extreme and too pro-Trump in the forth­com­ing gen­er­al elec­tion. Anoth­er WA-03 twist — thanks to Marie Glue­senkamp Perez’s can­di­da­cy — may well be in the cards.

Edi­tor’s Note: McCauley Pugh is an Asso­ciate Ana­lyst at Lake Research Part­ners. He is orig­i­nal­ly from Fed­er­al Way. He stud­ied Pol­i­tics and Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions and Ital­ian Stud­ies at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Dublin and has an MSc in Com­par­a­tive Pol­i­tics with a spe­cial­ism in Nation­al­ism and Eth­nic Pol­i­tics from the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and Polit­i­cal Sci­ence. Pri­or to work­ing at LRP, McCauley worked for The Mell­man Group and was an intern for U.S. Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell.

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One Ping

  1. […] Her­rera Beut­ler is one of ten House Repub­li­cans who vot­ed to impeach Don­ald Trump after the Jan­u­ary 6th insur­rec­tion, along with col­league Dan New­house from the adjoin­ing 4th. While New­house man­aged to dis­patch all of his ultra MAGA oppo­nents in the Top Two elec­tion (includ­ing the odi­ous Loren Culp), Her­rera Beut­ler was unable to hold off Kent despite a decent Elec­tion Night lead. […]

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