There are 21 congressional districts in the contiguous United States that border the Pacific Ocean. The one in Southwest Washington, held by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for the last 10 years, is the only one still held by a Republican.
Carolyn Long, who’s challenging Herrera Beutler for the second time after falling short in 2018, hopes to give Democrats a clean sweep of the West Coast with a campaign focused on expanding access to health care and harnessing dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump, even in a traditionally Republican district.
Outside money has begun to pour into the district, more than any other congressional race in Washington, as both national parties have targeted the race as competitive, despite Herrera Beutler’s healthy margin of victory in the August primary.
The Third Congressional District covers all or part of eight counties in Southwest Washington and stretches from the fishing and timber towns on the Pacific Coast, east through Vancouver and its surrounding suburbs, to sparsely populated agricultural regions in Skamania and Klickitat counties.
Herrera Beutler won the primary with 56% of the vote to 40% for Long. And Herrera Beutler beat Long in 2018, 53% to 47%.
Still, the spending from national party PACs is indicative of a race closer than the primary results would predict. Democratic groups, chiefly the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have spent about $1 million supporting Long’s candidacy. Republican groups, primarily the National Republican Congressional Committee and another super PAC controlled by House Republicans, have spent more than $1.7 million to protect Herrera Beutler’s seat.
Herrera Beutler, 41, has held the seat since 2011, after three years in the state Legislature and a stint as an aide for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She’s stressed her willingness to work with either party and the need to pass another round of COVID economic relief.
She voted against Democratic proposals that passed the House earlier this year to provide a second round of COVID relief, arguing that it was larded with unrelated add-ons. She’s highlighted legislation of local importance, including a law she led to allow sea lions to be shot and killed in the Columbia River, an effort to help salmon recovery.
Long, 53, has taught courses on the Constitution and public policy at WSU-Vancouver for 25 years. Her research has focused on constitutional law, specifically cases having to do with religious freedom and illegal searches. She touts her own pandemic recovery plan, which includes things like extending unemployment insurance, raising the federal minimum wage to $15, expanding paid sick leave and boosting funding for schools to reopen.
She also said she would have voted against the House’s second COVID relief package, calling it too partisan.
In 2016, after Trump was heard bragging about sexual assault on an Access Hollywood tape, Herrera Beutler said she would not vote for him. She said she’d been leaving the “door open” for Trump to earn her vote, but that door had “slammed shut.”
Four years later, Herrera Beutler says, the door is wide open.
She will vote for Trump this year, crediting his tax cuts and other economic policies with creating a booming economy before the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. She says economic growth coming out of the last recession was too slow under then-President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden.
“If we’re talking about personalities and we’re talking about who has a better outreach in terms of just how he conducts himself, Joe Biden wins every day of the week, but this isn’t an affability contest,” Herrera Beutler said of her presidential vote. “This is a contest about what direction our country goes and under Joe Biden’s time in office, with President Obama under the last recession, they made it as long — I don’t think they meant to do this — but they made it as long and as painfully slow a recovery as they possibly could have.”
She has voted with Trump about 82% of the time over the last four years, according to tallies kept by FiveThirtyEight.com.
Long, who supports Biden, used Herrera Beutler’s support of Trump as a chance to contrast their own records on campaign finance: Long has refused money from corporate PACs (although outside groups supporting her take corporate PAC money) while Herrera Beutler has accepted about $2 million in corporate PAC money over the course of her congressional career.
“At a time when military and political and business leaders are fleeing from Donald Trump, she is running toward him with open arms,” Long said. “And the reason why she is, is because, like him, she takes a lot of money from corporations and is in favor of bills that put Wall Street in front of Main Street.”
Long has made health care a focus of her campaign, proposing shoring up the Affordable Care Act by creating a public health insurance option that people could buy into.
Herrera Beutler has voted dozens of times over the last decade to repeal the ACA in its entirety. But she voted against the Republicans’ best chance to nix the law, in 2017, when their repeal bill passed the House but narrowly failed in the Senate.
Just days after the Nov. 3 election, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case, supported by the Trump administration, that could see the entire health care law thrown out.
On a nonbinding resolution last year, Herrera Beutler voted in support of the administration’s efforts in that case to have the landmark health care law thrown out, but last week she declined to say what she wants to see the court do.
“I would take a step back and say is the ACA working and I would say unequivocally no,” she said. “My job as a lawmaker is to make sure if they throw it out that we are still protecting people until we get a replacement in place.”
Republicans, who have been running on pushes to “repeal and replace” the ACA for the better part of a decade have not pushed a comprehensive replacement plan since their 2017 effort to repeal the law.
Herrera Beutler touts a bill she’s co-sponsored that, if the ACA is struck down in courts, would seek to preserve the parts of the law that guarantee insurance protections for people with preexisting conditions.
Long charges that the bill is “window dressing” and would lead to higher rates for people with preexisting conditions.
Nonpartisan health care analysts agree.
Beutler’s bill would preserve requirements that health care be offered to people with preexisting conditions, but it would not preserve the subsidies in the ACA that allow low and middle-income people to buy discounted insurance plans. Without such subsidies, experts say, healthy people have little incentive to buy insurance until they get sick.
“Providing comprehensive preexisting condition protections without some similar mechanism to create a balanced insurance pool would cause premiums to increase substantially and result in an unstable market,” the Kaiser Family Foundation wrote earlier this month.
An analysis in Health Affairs says that without the subsidies, or a similar mechanism, “the proposal will not protect people with preexisting conditions as well as the ACA.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Herrera Beutler is the only Republican from a congressional district in the continental United States that borders the Pacific Ocean. It has been updated to note that she is the only Republican from a district in the contiguous United States that borders the Pacific Ocean.