Newhouse faces familiar foe in McKinley for 4th Congressional District seat
Sept. 24, 2020 Updated Wed., Oct. 7, 2020 at 11:12 p.m.
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
Rep. Dan Newhouse is facing a challenge from a familiar foe in the race to represent Washington’s 4th Congressional District, but the GOP incumbent is already making plans for a fourth term representing a wide swath of Central Washington.
His Democratic opponent, Tri-Cities attorney Doug McKinley, previously ran for the seat in 2016 and is counting on record turnout to propel him to an upset win in the heavily Republican-leaning district.
Newhouse, a third-generation farmer from Sunnyside who served in the state legislature and as Washington’s Department of Agriculture director before he entered Congress, coasted through the Aug. 4 primary with 57% of votes. McKinley came in second with 26% to advance to the Nov. 3 general election.
Washington’s 4th, which stretches from Yakima and the Tri-Cities to the Canadian border, is the most safely Republican district in the state. President Donald Trump won nearly 58% of votes there in 2016 and Mitt Romney took almost 60% four years earlier.
Newhouse, 65, easily dispatched his previous Democratic opponent, Tri-Cities broadcaster Christine Brown, with nearly 63% of the vote in 2018. His toughest challenge came from fellow Republican Clint Didier, who ran to Newhouse’s right and took 42% of the vote in 2016. In Washington’s primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation.
McKinley, 57, is an attorney who spent three decades working for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and is leading a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of Hanford nuclear reservation workers over lost pension benefits.
The Richland resident is focusing his campaign on economic justice, seeking to raise wages and lower the cost of health care, housing and education.
“My goal is to make sure that every kid in Eastern Washington can have all the advantages and opportunities I had growing up,” the father of four writes on his campaign website.
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review, McKinley said reducing poverty would help address a range of problems like crime, drug use and domestic violence.
Raising wages, he said, “puts the power back in the hands of individuals. It’s not a big-government solution.”
“I’m a big, bleeding-heart liberal,” he said, “but I think that all of those problems take care of themselves much better with just giving those families more money, making sure that they get a bigger piece of the economic pie that they’re creating by working.”
McKinley also took aim at Newhouse for continuing to run his family’s 850-acre farm near Sunnyside, which the Democrat called “a conflict of interest.”
“If your goal is to raise wages in the largely agricultural 4th Congressional District,” McKinley said, “you’re raising Dan’s production costs. He’s running a multimillion-dollar business that depends on low-cost labor.”
But Newhouse’s background as a farmer in a region with an agricultural economy that relies heavily on an immigrant workforce has made him a pragmatic lawmaker.
Despite representing a ruby-red district, he has staked out a relatively moderate stance on immigration issues.
Newhouse, along with California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, crafted a bipartisan immigration bill that would overhaul the H-2A guest worker program, mandate the use of the E-Verify system to check agricultural workers’ immigration status, and let undocumented farm workers earn legal status. The bill passed the House at the end of 2019 but has since stalled in the Senate.
He was also one of just seven House Republicans to vote for the Dream and Promise Act in 2019, a reform package to give permanent legal status to “Dreamers,” immigrants who entered the U.S. as children, as well as immigrants stuck in legal limbo under the Temporary Protected Status program.
Newhouse has voted with Trump’s position on 93% of bills, according to politics website FiveThirtyEight, and his campaign website describes him as a “conservative Republican.” But his Nominate score, a metric used by congressional scholars to gauge a lawmaker’s overall voting record, rates him as more liberal than 86% of current House Republicans.
Newhouse is also focused on economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic, which has hit workers in Central Washington’s largely agricultural economy hard.
“I think if you talk to almost anybody in Central Washington,” he said, “high on the list of priorities is a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. As we move into 2021, certainly the health and safety of everybody has got to be a top priority, but I think the health of our economy has also got to be a priority.”
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review, Newhouse also cited protecting agricultural markets and dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers as major priorities.
In his first three terms in office, Newhouse has carved out a role for himself on the influential House Appropriations Committee, which determines how Congress spends money.
He has used that role to preserve funding for cleanup efforts at the Hanford nuclear site.
He also recently announced a bid for chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of lawmakers that represents rural areas and advocate for domestic energy production, agriculture and forestry, and local control of public lands.
“I’m excited about the prospect of being the chairman of such a great organization,” Newhouse said. “We put forward a lot of common-sense type of legislation that relates to issues that are very important to the western United States.”
Public health measures amid the pandemic have led to what Newhouse called “the most unusual campaign season in my experience,” with both candidates relying on virtual events to reach voters, but McKinley said remote campaigning has actually made it easier to reach some of the more far-flung parts of the district.
“The district is so huge and sprawling,” he said, “that door-knocking a 700,000-person district that stretches from Oregon to Canada was never going to be a super-efficient use of any candidate’s time.”
McKinley is realistic about facing a tough path to victory in the heavily Republican district.
“There’s only one way,” he said, “and that is we need a massive and unprecedented turnout among women and Latino voters 18 to 40 who want to build a better life for their families but, for whatever reason, have become cynical about our election process.”
Election Day is Nov. 3. All registered voters in Washington will automatically be mailed ballots Oct. 16. Voters can register or confirm that their addresses are correct at VoteWA.gov.
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