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In Central Washington’s 4th district, Dan Newhouse’s re-election hopes rest on voters getting over impeachment vote

July 26, 2022 Updated Wed., July 27, 2022 at 7:55 a.m.

Campaign signs for candidates in the congressional primary along Main Street in Omak, Wash., on July 26, 2022.  (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)
Campaign signs for candidates in the congressional primary along Main Street in Omak, Wash., on July 26, 2022. (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)

OKANOGAN, Wash. – After Rep. Dan Newhouse voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump for inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021, local GOP leaders in his Central Washington district called for the four-term Republican to resign.

Unlike four of the nine other House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment, Newhouse rejected those calls and chose to run for re-election. Like others who are defending their seats, he has drawn a Trump-endorsed challenger in former gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp.

But a week before Washington’s Aug. 2 primary election, three of the county GOP chairmen who rebuked him 18 months earlier said Newhouse has a good chance to make it through the top-two primary thanks to continued support from the district’s agriculture community, a crowded field of right-wing challengers and waning anger over his impeachment vote.

“In our county, when he did the vote to impeach President Trump, it was like, ‘What are you doing? You’ve done all this to help us, and then you do this?’” said Teagan Levine, chair of the Okanogan County Republican Party, whose central committee voted unanimously to censure Newhouse but didn’t ask him to resign.

“People truly felt like they were stabbed in the back,” she said. “But then once the emotions subside a little bit, they’re like, ‘But he’s done all of this good stuff.’”

Teagan Levine, chair of the Okanogan County Republican Party, in Okanogan on July 26, 2022.  (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)
Teagan Levine, chair of the Okanogan County Republican Party, in Okanogan on July 26, 2022. (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)

Levine said Newhouse’s efforts to oppose a plan to reintroduce grizzly bears in the North Cascades, which the federal government scrapped in 2020, won him support in the northernmost county in the district that spans Central Washington from the Canadian border to Oregon. So has his help securing funding for irrigation and other needs of the agricultural industry that forms the backbone of the district’s economy.

“Ag is everything here,” said Mike McKee, chair of the Grant County Republican Party, one of six county GOPs that called for Newhouse to step down. “Farming is a tough business, and I think that’s one thing where Dan has done well for the farmers. He’s tried to help make farming a viable thing.”

A lack of support among the district’s farmers and ranchers has been a weak point, McKee said, for Newhouse’s two best-funded GOP challengers, Culp and former NASCAR driver Jerrod Sessler. State Rep. Brad Klippert of Kennewick, the first Republican to jump into the race and the only other candidate with legislative experience, has struggled to stand out in a field of seven Republicans.

“However you want to look at it, Dan has represented the ag community well,” McKee said, pointing to endorsements Newhouse has received from multiple agriculture industry groups. “I think all of them looked at the field and said, ‘Nah, we’ll stay with Dan. We know what we got.’”

The fragmented field of right-wing challengers to Newhouse could help the incumbent, but thanks to Washington’s unusual “jungle primary” – in which the top two finishers advance to November’s general election – it could also help the sole Democrat in the race, Yakima businessman Doug White.

“I think Doug White will make it through,” McKee said. “It’s just a numbers game, being that the field on the Republican side is so diluted.”

Mike McKee, chair of the Grant County Republican Party, in Moses Lake on July 25, 2022.  (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)
Mike McKee, chair of the Grant County Republican Party, in Moses Lake on July 25, 2022. (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)

In recent years, Democratic candidates have won no more than a third of votes in the heavily conservative 4th District. But with the seven Republican candidates likely to split the remaining votes, even a quarter may be enough for White to advance to the general election.

Mike Massey, chair of the Benton County Republican Party, said a strong showing from White could also help a GOP candidate oust Newhouse in the primary.

“The only way any conservative is going to have a chance in this race is if Doug White does really well, he gets 30% plus some of the left-of-center moderates,” Massey said. “And then on the conservative end, the conservatives rally around one candidate that’s a solid opponent to Dan Newhouse.”

The outcome remains to be seen, but with just a week remaining for voters to cast their ballots by mail, no single candidate has emerged as the conservative alternative to Newhouse. Levine said the GOP should have learned its lesson from Washington’s 2020 gubernatorial race, when Culp finished second to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in a primary field that included 16 Republican candidates.

“At the very beginning, one of the things that a lot of people said was, ‘Let’s not flood the ballot like the governor’s race,’” Levine said. “Everyone saw what happened. We need to learn from our mistakes. Stop flooding the ballot.”

The Benton County GOP was the only local party in the district that backed a candidate ahead of this year’s primary, endorsing Klippert in February. Massey said Klippert’s legislative experience and ties to the agriculture community – he grew up on a Sunnyside farm just down the road from the Newhouse family’s farm – made him the best choice.

“If I was to put Dan Newhouse and Brad Klippert one-on-one, I would say Brad Klippert would win,” Massey said. “But it’s going to likely be Dan Newhouse and Doug White in the race.”

If White makes it to the general election along with a Republican like Culp or Sessler, Massey said, the Democrat’s connection to the agriculture community – his family has a farm in Yakima – could give him an outside chance of winning the deep-red district in what is expected to be a bad year for Democrats.

“Folks want more of a farmer, and Doug White has a lot of agricultural credentials,” Massey said. “Whereas Loren Culp does not have the agricultural credentials and neither does Jerrod Sessler.”

Levine said White has also benefited from Newhouse’s Republican opponents sniping at each other, not focusing on what sets them apart from Democrats.

“I think the Republicans forget there’s a Democrat running,” she said, adding that Republican voters in Okanogan County “really wish one of the candidates would run for the people, instead of against someone else.”

“They’re so intertwined in fighting each other, it’s like, ‘What are you going to do for us, though?’” Levine said. “People have said that in several forums. ‘We don’t care about what the other person is doing. Stop focusing on them. What are you going to do for us?’”

To vote in Washington’s primary, mail-in ballots must be postmarked on Aug. 2 or deposited in an official drop box before 8 p.m. that day.

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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