Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez sought to highlight the extremism of Republican Joe Kent in the first general election debate for the hotly contested congressional seat in Southwest Washington, as Kent portrayed himself as a check on the policies of national Democrats.
Over and over during the approximately 90-minute debate, Gluesenkamp Perez cited Kent’s positions in trying to cast him as too far-right even for a district that leans Republican.
Kent, she noted, has called those arrested for attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6 “political prisoners;” he’s called for stopping all immigration, legal and illegal, and he’s called for defunding the FBI.
Kent, who knocked off incumbent Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, as well as a gaggle of other Republican challengers in the August primary, didn’t back away from any of those positions. Rather, he said Gluesenkamp Perez would essentially be a Democratic rubber stamp.
“Can you afford two more years of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi destroying our economy?” Kent asked the crowd at a Vancouver convention center. “We cannot continue to let the Democrats at the federal level and at the state level continue this anarcho-tyranny.”
Herrera Beutler has represented the 3rd Congressional District, which stretches from the fishing and timber towns on the Pacific Coast, east through Vancouver and its surrounding suburbs, to sparsely populated farmland and Skamania and Lewis counties, for a dozen years.
But she came in third in August’s top-two primary behind Gluesenkamp Perez, the lone serious Democrat, and Kent, who rode anger at Herrera Beutler’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump and Trump’s endorsement, to a narrow second-place finish.
Kent, who has called COVID a scam and opposed vaccines, recently called for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, to be charged with murder.
At Tuesday’s debate, in a response that drew both guffaws and applause from the crowd, he again called for Fauci to be “held accountable,” accusing him of funding “the people who cooked up COVID.”
The COVID vaccines, which have proved hugely effective in reducing hospitalization and death from the virus, are “not a vaccine,” Kent said, but “an experimental gene therapy.”
“Does anyone feel like they just spent a month on YouTube?” Gluesenkamp Perez responded. “That’s what we’re signing up for with Joe, he thinks he can raise a lot of money saying stuff like this, and maybe he is, but it is doing nothing to heal our country.”
Both candidates stressed their backgrounds as making them uniquely qualified.
Gluesenkamp Perez, who owns an auto shop and lives in rural Skamania County, repeatedly cast herself as “not your typical Democrat.”
She would be a moderate, she said, and bring funding to the district, while Kent was interested in “starting flame wars” and “grandstanding.”
Kent, who served on 11 combat tours over two decades in the Army, has billed himself as an America First Republican who would keep the country out of foreign wars.
The two clashed on Ukraine policy, where Gluesenkamp Perez supports the current bipartisan policy of providing military aid without getting directly involved in the war.
“Russia invaded a democratic nation, full stop,” she said. “Joe Kent’s plan is just to surrender, he has called Putin reasonable and Zelenskyy a thug.”
Kent responded that aiding Ukraine would lead to the U.S. entering the war.
“We are at a razor’s edge from going to war with Russia,” Kent said.
They clashed on immigration.
Gluesenkamp Perez: “Joe Kent has consistently said he wants to end all immigration for 20 years, that is economic sabotage.”
Kent: “We need to stop importing workers that take away jobs from American citizens.”
Kent criticized Gluesenkamp Perez for not focusing on energy independence and said she and Democrats would do nothing to secure the Southern border. Inflation, he said, is being fueled by Democratic policies and “one month of wages is being stolen from you.”
Gluesenkamp Perez accused Kent of being more interested in fame — he’s become a regular on Fox News and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast — than in getting things done in Congress.