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District 4 congressional race: Newhouse faces seven challengers in test of Trump’s influence in Central Washington

July 18, 2022 Updated Mon., July 18, 2022 at 9:31 a.m.

The race to represent Washington’s 4th congressional district may be the least predictable contest in the state’s Aug. 2 primary, as four-term Rep. Dan Newhouse faces six other Republicans and a Democrat in a vote that will send the top two finishers to November’s general election.

Newhouse has represented the state’s most reliably conservative district, which spans Central Washington from Yakima and the Tri-Cities to the Canadian border, since 2015. Since then, the Republican Party has fallen in the thrall of former President Donald Trump, who made ousting Newhouse a priority after the third-generation farmer from Sunnyside voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

His opponents are mostly political newcomers, with the exception of state Rep. Brad Klippert, a Republican from Kennewick whose campaign has lagged behind other GOP candidates in fundraising despite support from local party leaders. Loren Culp, the former Republic police chief who came up short in a 2020 run for governor, holds an advantage in name recognition and won a coveted endorsement from Trump.

After redistricting following the 2020 census, the district includes all of Benton, Grant, Okanogan, Douglas and Yakima counties. It gained Klickitat County and lost most of Adams and Franklin counties.

The race will test not only Trump’s continued influence in Central Washington, but the broader power of the nationalist, conspiracy-theory-laden platform he elevated during his presidency. After making unsuccessful bids for the former president’s endorsement, other candidates have still found support within his political orbit.

Former NASCAR driver Jerrod Sessler of Prosser has invested more than $350,000 of his own money in the race and won endorsements from members of Trump’s inner circle, including lobbyist Roger Stone and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Corey Gibson, who moved home to Selah after a marketing career in California, founded an alliance of “America First” candidates inspired by Trump’s presidency.

Benancio “Ben” Garcia III, an Army veteran from Sunnyside, is the only Latino candidate running to represent a district that is 40% Hispanic. Jacek Kobiesa, a Pasco resident who grew up in Poland, has talked about investing in affordable housing and expanding nuclear energy production while warning that the United States is sliding toward communism.

Garcia and Kubiesa have not reported raising any money but could influence the outcome of the “jungle” primary, where the top two finishers could conceivably advance to the general election with as little as 20% of votes.

The crowded GOP field could create an opportunity for the sole Democrat in the race, Yakima businessman Doug White, who has campaigned full time after the Hong Kong-based marketing firm he ran folded amid China’s crackdown on the nominally independent territory. While the district is considered a safe Republican seat, Democrats have won between a quarter and a third of votes in recent years. White has cast himself as a commonsense moderate who would use his business acumen to bring prosperity to the district.

A lack of public polling in the district makes it hard to predict how the eight-man race could shake out. Internal polls commissioned by Culp’s campaign, conducted in December and April, showed him leading all candidates and winning a hypothetical head-to-head matchup with Newhouse.

Sessler’s campaign released a survey in June showing White leading with 23.9% support, Sessler close behind with 23.1%, Newhouse with 19.8% and Culp with 13.7%.

Sessler’s spokeswoman, Rachel Emmanuel, declined to release any information on the poll’s methodology, saying in an email, “The survey was provided to us by private individuals who support our campaign. Their data was analyzed by their engineers who disagree with the deceptive practices used by polling groups in our State.”

Newhouse has campaigned largely as he has in past years, focusing on what he’s done in Congress to help people in the district and declining to criticize his opponents. In an interview, he acknowledged many voters in the district were upset by his impeachment vote but said he believes many have moved on.

“The reaction from many folks is that they may not agree with me on that one particular vote, but they recognize that they do agree with me on so many other things and so they continue to support me,” Newhouse said.

“I’ve been focusing as much as I can on the work in front of me, the things that are important to people,” he said. “And a lot of people recognize that that’s where we should be. Instead of living a year-and-a-half ago, we should be focused on what’s going on right now and how do we address those things that concern everybody, like inflation, like high prices of gas and food.”

Meanwhile, the complicated electoral math caused by Washington’s open primary system has left the other candidates speculating about scenarios that would let them pull off unlikely victories.

“It does look like Newhouse is going to be primaried,” White said in an April interview, pointing to calls from most county GOP leaders in the district for Newhouse to step down after he voted to impeach Trump.

While local GOP leaders in most of the 4th district’s counties have declined to endorse candidates in the primary, the Benton County Republican Party endorsed Klippert in February, with more than 58% of precinct committee officers voting for the state lawmaker and fewer than 7% voting for Culp.

“The GOP is split,” White said. “The only thing that they’re sure of is it’s not Newhouse and it’s not Trump. I still think I’m going to go up against Culp in the general election, and that’s a race I can win.”

In a June 7 email to supporters touting his survey results, Sessler agreed.

“The Democrat, Doug White, will almost definitely make it to the general election,” the email said. “If Dan Newhouse is the 2nd candidate to win the primary, it is possible that enough Republicans will stay home in the general election for Doug White to actually win the 4th district election. This would be the first time a Democrat has won the Congressional election since Jay Inslee won our district in 1993! That would be a disaster.”

Jostling for the support of Trump-friendly voters has caused more drama between Sessler and Culp. In a July 6 appearance on One America News Network, Sessler was introduced as a “Trump-endorsed” candidate and didn’t correct host Dan Ball, who brought Culp on the show a week later to correct the mistake.

In interviews, the Republicans challenging Newhouse expressed similar stances on the role of the federal government and what they hope to accomplish in Congress. All six cited members of the House Freedom Caucus, including GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, as current lawmakers they admire. They all expressed varying degrees of support for Trump’s claim – contradicted by dozens of judges and numerous members of his own administration – that he only lost the 2020 election because of massive voter fraud.

White declined to name a current lawmaker he would emulate in Congress, but praised Washington Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

While all the Republicans expressed opposition to federal power, Culp said he would use a seat in Congress to work to change nationwide election laws, including eliminating voting by mail and early voting. He also said only U.S. citizens should vote in the United States, although federal and Washington state laws already prohibit voting by noncitizens, who can only vote in local elections in a handful of municipalities including New York City and San Francisco.

“I’m running because our rights, right now, for the people alive today in America, are being stolen,” Sessler said. “Literally. I think the 2020 election was the biggest heist in world history.”

Culp said he chose to run because of Newhouse’s impeachment vote and because he wanted to capitalize on the support he gained from his gubernatorial campaign.

“That momentum, I didn’t want it just to die,” he said. “I’ve seen so many candidates … they come up short and then they just disappear. And I told everybody in 2020, I’m a fighter. I’m not a quitter. And so that’s when I decided to run for office again, when I realized that Dan Newhouse was really not a conservative like he wants everybody to believe.”

Sessler said he decided to run for Congress in 2012, when the district was represented by former Rep. Doc Hastings, but chose to wait for his kids to get older.

“Our Constitution being trampled and being destroyed, that’s the biggest reason for me running,” he said. “This is not a career for me, nor do I think it needs to be. I went from being completely politically ignorant in high school to learning a lot about it through the years, as I started realizing how much politics affected my life, my business, my family, my taxes, my bank accounts, everything.”

Klippert also said he considered running when Hastings retired in 2014, eventually deciding against it, but chose to enter the race after Newhouse’s impeachment vote.

“When Dan Newhouse voted to impeach President Trump, that was the time when I knew that I could no longer stand back and not get involved,” he said. “I needed to run for office, because it was a vote that I could not tolerate.”

White said he has no illusions about the challenge of winning as a Democrat in the deep-red district, but said voters are open to supporting him when he introduces himself by talking about his platform.

“I usually ask them questions,” he said. “ ‘Do you believe in a progressive income tax? Do you believe in responsible fiscal spending? Do you believe in public education?’ I usually get ‘yes, yes, yes,’ and then I drop the Democrat on them and they’re like, ‘What?’ ”

Garcia, like Culp and Sessler, endorsed a philosophy that holds that only the first 10 amendments to the Constitution should dictate what the federal government can do, with all other matters left to the states, though he clarified he does believe the 13th Amendment’s prohibition on slavery should apply.

“First and foremost, I want to go ahead and protect our Constitution as it was originally written, and that does not mean bring back slavery or any of that,” he said. “To me, it’s the second-greatest document ever created, and I want to preserve the American dream.”

He added that the greatest document ever created is the Bible and said his Christian faith motivated him to seek office.

Gibson, who described himself as “the kid at the lunch table that gets up and welcomes you to the table,” said he chose to run because he is worried “we’re going to lose our country if we continue to move in the direction that we’re moving in, with censorship and division in the country.”

If he gets to Congress, Gibson said, “I think the first thing I would want to do is to find a way of reeling back presidential executive authority, because I really fear what this president and his administration is going to do when they realize that they have no chance of actually winning through the electoral process.”

Unlike the other Republicans running, Kobiesa didn’t take aim at Newhouse.

“It is not just Dan Newhouse,” he said, adding that he chose to run after years of worrying that U.S. society was moving toward communism. “We are, right now, racing down to the bottom of the abyss.”

The top two finishers in Washington’s Aug. 2 primary will go on to the Nov. 8 general election.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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