This election season, the 3rd District ranks as one of the Pacific Northwest's most contested congressional races, gaining national attention as Democrats work to topple enough vulnerable Republicans to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
VANCOUVER, Clark County — Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler grew up on 2.5 acres in Southwest Washington, which her father — a lithographer and evangelical Christian — sought out as a more tranquil setting for home-schooling than the family’s previous residence in Los Angeles County.
Her 3rd District challenger, Democrat Carolyn Long, spent much of her youth in the Oregon coastal town of Brookings. There she and her four siblings lived in a double-wide trailer, and at one point dropped out of school for six weeks to help run the family produce stand.
These two women with working-class roots in rural Pacific Northwest communities tout their ability to bridge the political divide as their campaigns unfold across a stunningly diverse swath of the state. The 3rd District stretches from the fishing, timber and tourism towns of Pacific County through the urban, fast-growing Vancouver metropolis and east to the arid lands around Goldendale where wheat, cattle and — more recently — wind turbines and drone manufacturing boost the economy.
This election season, the 3rd District ranks as one of the Pacific Northwest’s most contested congressional races, gaining national attention as Democrats work to topple enough vulnerable Republicans to regain control of the House of Representatives.
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Long made a strong showing in the primary, tallying 35 percent of the vote, while Herrera Beutler claimed 42 percent. Long has received support from national Democratic groups such as EMILY’s List, which backs women candidates, and she gained the endorsement of former President Barack Obama and The (Vancouver) Columbian.
“Jaime Herrera Beutler has to be concerned not only because of the primary result but Carolyn Long’s potential for growth, given that relatively few voters knew who she was,” said David Wasserman, U.S. House editor for The Cook Political Report, which now rates the race “leaning Republican” — a change from “likely Republican” a few months back.
Long, 51, is a political-science professor at Washington State University’s campus in Clark County, where she moved last year after more than two decades of commuting from Oregon. Since 2014, she has taught “Public Discourse in a Time of Incivility,” which includes training students to organize Southwest Washington “listening sessions” on access to education and affordable housing. The goal has been to replace “rigid partisanship with listening and conversation,” and she has had to practice those course skills within her own family. Her husband, a pharmaceutical salesman, voted for Donald Trump during the presidential election.
“We disagree a lot, actually,” Long said. “He thinks that Trump has been good for the economy. So I’m like, ‘Let’s both agree that we want a good economy and family-wage jobs — how do we get there?’ ”
Herrera-Beutler, 38, who lives in Camas and has held the seat since 2011, had a swift rise to political power, serving as an aide to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, and then in the state Legislature before her first run for the House in the 2010 election.
She talks a lot now about how she has reached across the aisle to work with Democrats on issues ranging from a bill that would enable the killing of more sea lions that dine on threatened salmon to a bill that aims to reduce maternal mortality. Though she repeatedly joined Republicans in voting to upend the Affordable Care Act when Obama was still in office, she bucked Trump and other Republicans in a 2017 push to repeal the legislation.
“Our promise was that people are going to be better off, and that bill didn’t keep that promise, in my mind,” Herrera Beutler said. “I told the president as much … and he did not put a hard sell on me.”
Closely watched race
The race has sparked keen interest. Long has raised her profile through more than three dozen community meetings, and a lot of her supporters were in attendance as the two candidates held a debate Sept. 18 at the Oak Tree Restaurant in Woodland.
The debate featured plenty of partisan sniping in front of a boisterous crowd of several hundred people, who were repeatedly admonished to refrain from cheering and clapping by an increasingly irate moderator — Woodland Chamber of Commerce Treasurer Darlene Johnson.
Herrera Beutler lashed out at Long as being a recent arrival to Washington, and she accused her of not settling her family in the district while she waits to see how the election turns out.
Long says she and her husband now both live in Vancouver, where their 13-year-old daughter attends public school. She says the decision to move there resulted from her accepting an administrative position that required daily attendance at WSU. And in her opening remarks in Woodland, she snapped back at Herrera Beutler for telling “multiple lies.”
During the campaign, the future of health care has emerged as a big point of debate, and for both candidates the issue is personal.
Herrera Beutler’s daughter Abigail, now 5, was born without kidneys, a condition known as Potter’s syndrome. Abigail received a kidney transplant from her father Daniel Beutler, becoming the first baby known to survive that condition.
“Because of her, there have been some other babies who have lived, and we have had some real progress in the field,” Herrera Beutler said.
Long lost her mother to lung cancer.
“The thing that I remember about it is that she was afraid to see a doctor. She knew how expensive it could be and how hard it would be on the family,” Long says in a campaign advertisement. “I think that every American should have access to affordable health care. It’s the number one issue I’m running on.”
In the Woodland debate, Herrera Beutler accused Long of advocating for a national health-care system that would require huge increases in federal income taxes and force working families off private insurance.
Long said she supports shoring up the Affordable Care Act. That could mean restoring the individual health-insurance mandate — repealed through the tax legislation passed by the Republican Congress — and defending the law that requires insurance companies to offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. She said she also would look to expand health-insurance coverage in rural areas with a public option.
“I am not sure which Democrat my opponent thinks she’s running against,” Long said.
Project in spotlight
In Clark County, the district’s biggest population center, another campaign issue is the future of the aging Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. It is the scene of fierce traffic jams as Washington commuters drive to and from work in Oregon.
A project that would have received federal financial support to replace the bridge imploded in 2013 after the Washington state Senate refused to consider a bill for Washington funding, in part out of concern about the inclusion of light rail that critics said would be a costly white elephant.
Herrera Beutler says she has continued to work on the issue, and she hopes Washington and Oregon can compromise on a new bridge project that might include bus-rapid transit service rather than light rail. She is not sure that tolls are necessary to gain financing, but says she is willing to support what she calls a “true user fee” where the money raised would go toward paying for the bridge rather than for other transportation projects.
Long faults Herrera Beutler for not providing enough leadership to help revive the bridge project.
“What combination of state, federal and local funding do we need to get it built?” Long asked. “And that’s what I want to be a champion of.”
Throughout the campaign, Herrera Beutler has tried to keep her distance from a polarizing Republican president who may face impeachment proceedings should Democrats gain the majority in the U.S. House.
Herrera Beutler has said she opted not to vote for Trump in 2016 and cast a write-in vote for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
But Trump is expected to energize a blue wave that would benefit Long.
“Democratic enthusiasm is way up — and that has everything to do with Trump — not Herrera Beutler,” said Wasserman, The Cook Political Report analyst.