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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.