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Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez defeats Republican Joe Kent in WA House race

Nov. 12, 2022 Updated Sat., Nov. 12, 2022 at 8:45 p.m.

Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez talks to Clark County Fair-goers as they enjoy lunch on Aug. 11, 2022. Gluesenkamp Perez was leading her Republican opponent Joe Kent in the race for Congress representing southweastern Washington in the second day of vote counting.  (Daniel Kim/Seattle Times)
Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez talks to Clark County Fair-goers as they enjoy lunch on Aug. 11, 2022. Gluesenkamp Perez was leading her Republican opponent Joe Kent in the race for Congress representing southweastern Washington in the second day of vote counting. (Daniel Kim/Seattle Times)
By Jim Brunner and David Gutman Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, an auto shop owner who was a virtual unknown before August’s primary election, pulled off perhaps the most stunning political upset in the country this year, winning a congressional seat in southwest Washington that few saw as competitive.

Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat, defeated Donald Trump-endorsed Republican Joe Kent on Saturday in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, with roughly 50.5% of the vote.

The Saturday ballot count in Clark County put Gluesenkamp Perez’s lead over Kent, an Army Special Forces veteran, at more than 4,600 votes, with an estimated 15,000 or fewer votes remaining. She had led since election night, but Kent narrowed the gap in later counts.

The Seattle Times projects Gluesenkamp Perez as the winner, as an analysis shows Kent would need 73% of the remaining votes to catch up. NBC News, the Associated Press, CNN and the New York Times also called the race for the Democrat.

Gluesenkamp Perez’s victory sends a Democrat to Congress in a district that has voted Republican for more than a decade, and means eight of Washington’s 10 House members will now be Democrats, along with the state’s two U.S. senators.

It also bolsters Democrats’ chances of possibly hanging onto their House majority, with several races too close to call in states including California, Oregon and Arizona. Republicans remain favored to gain the edge to flip House control.

Kent had appeared confident of victory after the August primary, declaring the district to be “deep red MAGA country.”

Gluesenkamp Perez said the final result shows most voters in the 3rd District reject that ideology and Kent’s agenda, which focused on unyielding partisan warfare.

“We are moderate and we are people that work for a living. We are people that pay our taxes and want good schools and want a functioning society. We are tired of politicking and we are tired of extremists, and we just want to know that our kids are going to have a same or better shot at a good life as we did,” she said in an interview Saturday.

She credited her win to a coalition that included Republicans and independents who favored her focus on local issues and rebuilding the rural economy, instead of national partisan fights.

“I am not an ideologue. I am not a show pony. I am here to work, and I live like the district does,” she said.

Kent’s loss was another stinging defeat for a Trump-endorsed candidate in the midterm elections and provided Democrats with a surprise House seat pickup in a year in which the party was mostly playing defense.

Before the election, the political news site FiveThirtyEight gave Kent a 98% chance of winning, but there had been little polling in the race.

Kent did not concede Saturday, tweeting “this is not over.” He said supporters are working on “curing” 6,000 rejected ballots to get them counted. That represents the total number of ballots not counted because of signature or other problems, and those likely include Democratic voters in addition to Republicans.

Kent had become a star in conservative media, appearing frequently on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, and almost daily at times on the podcast of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

As of Saturday, the margin in the race appeared to be outside the range that would trigger an automatic recount under state law.

Impeachment primary

The path to Gluesenkamp Perez’s improbable win started when six-term Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler last year voted to impeach Trump over his role in stoking the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters seeking to halt certification of Joe Biden’s win.

Trump took revenge by endorsing Kent, who succeeded in ousting Herrera Beutler in the August primary, but went on to lose what had been considered a safe Republican seat.

Gluesenkamp Perez, the lone serious Democrat in the contest, placed first in the primary, and Kent squeaked past Herrera Beutler in a crowded field of Republicans for second place.

Herrera Beutler never endorsed either candidate and did not respond when asked who she voted for.

Gluesenkamp Perez, 34, will be among the youngest members of Congress next year. She grew up in Texas, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant father who met her mother on a visit to Washington. She graduated from Reed College in Portland with a degree in economics. She and her husband live in rural Skamania County in a house they built, and co-own a Portland auto-repair shop with eight employees.

She has been involved in politics as a member of the Democratic National Committee, and ran unsuccessfully for Skamania County Board of Commissioners in 2016.

During her congressional campaign, Gluesenkamp Perez pitched herself as a supporter of both abortion rights and Second Amendment rights and emphasized support for small businesses, job training and local concerns, like the timber industry.

She ran ads that showcased her rural, Skamania County home, in which she fells a tree with a chainsaw.

Kent, 42, won former Trump’s endorsement early in the primary cycle and has embraced the former president’s lies about the 2020 election and downplayed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Kent repeatedly called those arrested for the Jan. 6 attack “political prisoners” and said he wanted to investigate the FBI, searching for evidence the agency secretly instigated the attack.

He ran on a pro-Trump “America First” agenda, vowing to seek immediate impeachment of Biden, opposing U.S. miltary aid to Ukraine, and calling for a near total shutdown on immigration.

Kent’s alignment with Trump and the most conservative House Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, opened the door for Gluesenkamp Perez. He called for all weapons available to the military, including machine guns, to be available to the public. He supported a national abortion ban, with no exceptions, and called for Dr. Anthony Fauci to be charged with murder.

A handful of notable Republicans in Southwest Washington who’d backed Herrera Beutler in the primary crossed party lines to publicly endorse Gluesenkamp Perez.

The general election results indicate a significant number of voters quietly followed suit.

Kent’s totals in the 3rd District were running about 5% below the GOP Senate candidate, Tiffany Smiley. Gluesenkamp Perez was getting about 4% more votes in the district than Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray – evidence that a slice of Smiley voters split their tickets and declined to back Kent.

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