PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The race to represent Southwest Washington in Congress is getting a lot of attention nationwide after incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler was voted out in the primary — she was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump.
Trump-backed MAGA Republican Joe Kent is running against another political newcomer in Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, who is pushing back against her own party.
At their first debate two weeks ago, the economy was topic number one.
“Right now our economy is actually being destroyed by Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats at every level,” Kent said. “How’s your 401k doing? How’s your future look for your kids? Very bleak, we can not have two more years of Democrats at the helm. I’m going there to be a check and balance on Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.”
“Rural economies are hemorrhaging the critical services we need to keep our economies vibrant,” added Gluesenkamp Perez. “My opponent has spent the last two years preparing for tonight practicing on TV. I’ve spent the last two years running a small business and I think that’s the experience that’s really missing from Congress today.”
In her campaign, Gluesenkamp Perez, who is running as a moderate, is attempting to separate herself from GOP criticism that blames Democrats for high inflation, violence and homelessness.
“I was pretty annoyed with a lot of Democratic messaging earlier, and it was like, ‘oh, it’s not that bad. Inflation’s not that bad. It’s transitory.’ It is that bad. It sucks right? Like my business is hurting because of it,” she said. “Anybody that says that there’s a quick solution is selling you something, and it’s not the truth. It is gonna take work and deliberate investment to get us back to a position of energy independence and a vibrant economy that can withstand all of these pressures that we will continue to see.”
KOIN 6 News has interviewed Kent several times, including on an appearance on Eye on Northwest Politics in January. But he was a no-show for another unedited appearance on Sept. 30. Several days later, Kent’s campaign manager unexpectedly declined a recorded interview with KOIN 6, saying that “our policy with local left-wing media outlets is to only do live interviews.”
“The Republican establishment fears me like they feared President Trump,” Kent said in an August 1st interview with KOIN 6.
Kent aims many of his attacks on Wall Street, certainly a non-traditional platform for a Republican. Kent says he wants to bring back manufacturing to the United States, secure the southern border and is against the economic and military support of Ukraine. He also says he wants the U.S. to reverse Democrats’ energy policy.
“The biggest issue we have right now in our country is our antiquated political system. Republicans and Democrats have failed the American people,” Kent said on Aug. 8.
Kent is a former Green Beret, and his military wife was killed in action. He has also continued to question the outcome of the Presidential election.
In August he tweeted, “The 2020 election was rigged & stolen.”
In June he told Fox News that “if our ruling class won’t go back and actually adjudicate what happened with our elections, our system is going to continue to decay.”
Kent echoed similar sentiments to KOIN 6 anchor Ken Boddie in January.
“That’s why when I get into the House of Representatives, I’m going to push for a full Congressional inquiry to finish that process that was supposed to take place on Jan. 6th, so every state that had discrepancies gets a chance to lay it out for the American people, so we can finally have some transparency,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez says she sees her opponent as an extremist.
“I mean, what else would you call someone who says that we should arrest Fauci for murder?” she said.
Kent has been under a microscope for interviewing with a white-nationalist supporter, but claims that he has no affiliation with hate groups.
“It’s absolutely garbage. I don’t have any ties to racist organizations, anti-semitic organizations or that trash,” he told KOIN 6 on Aug. 8.
Gluesenkamp Perez owns an auto repair shop in Portland, but lives in rural Skamania County. As a gun owner, she’s against an assault weapons ban, but supports raising the age to buy one to 21. She also favors background checks and red flag laws.
Gluesenkamp Perez, who is pro-choice, has sparred with Kent over abortion rights. Kent says that he wants to “end abortion in America.”
Gluesenkamp Perez, like Kent, wants to do more to help the timber industry, removing undergrowth from forests and establishing more controlled burns to prevent wildfires. She would also like to increase taxes on the ultra-rich if she gets to Congress, but there are critical numbers that seem to be against her.
While Gluesenkamp Perez got the most votes in the August open primary at 31% and another Democrat got 2%, Republican candidates combined had 65%. She is now looking to the 22% who supported Jaime Herrera Beutler in the election that ended her GOP run in Congress. When asked how she could overcome the deficit, she responded by saying, “It’s absolutely with the support of Jaime’s voters, that has been evident from the beginning.”
The ideological split between the candidates and audience members was clear during an exchange at their September 27th debate. Kent called Covid-19 vaccines “The experimental gene therapy, vaccine”. Kent said, “Had Fauci been honest and upfront and said ‘Hey boss, we funded this, we could have demanded to the Chinese Communist Party, they release the gene sequence’, that would have got us much further along with having an actual vaccine.” Kent added, “No more excessive Government control and we will hold unelected bureaucrats accountable.” His statement drew applause from some members of the audience.
Gluesenkamp Perez countered, “Does anyone else here feel like they just spent a month on YouTube?” Her statement drew supportive laughter.
“This race really is a bellwether for the country. We are at a fork in the road here, and, and we cannot afford to sit this one out on the couch. We need all the help we can get because our democracy is on the line,” Gluesenkamp Perez told KOIN 6.
Campaign finance records show Kent had nearly 10 times as much money as Gluesenkamp Perez in the last campaign contribution report before the primary. The next report is due Oct. 15, the same day they will engage in their next debate sponsored by the League of Women voters.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said that Gluesenkamp Perez’s auto shop is located in Skamania County. It is in fact located in Northeast Portland.