Why WA Third Flipped Democratic: A Tale of Two Cities


Christina seemed stunned when my wife and I knocked on her door in Longview and asked if she was voting for the Democratic candidate for Congress in Southwest Washington.

“Dems? I don’t vote for THEM!” she scoffed. Now it was our turn to be surprised. With only 10 days to go before the general election, we were using a list of Democratic voters to get out the vote for Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (MGP), a candidate for Congress in WA-03. This would happen a few times as we canvassed a working class neighborhood in the old mill town at the confluence of the Columbia and Cowlitz rivers.

To get on this list, Christina must have voted for a Democrat (maybe Obama) in recent years. But now she was enthusiastically backing Joe Kent, the far-right Republican backed by former President Trump.

I returned to the third district a week later, and this time canvassed alone for MGP in Vancouver, a growing city (almost 200,000 residents) that now has its own suburbs, and serves for many as home-away-from-work in Portland, Oregon, right across the river. My reception here was different.

“Marie is the one running against the crazy MAGA guy, right? Yeah, I’m definitely voting for her,” Sherry said from her home at the end of a newly developed cul-de-sac.

Sherry’s Democrat beat Christina’s Republican in the close midterm election, flipping a seat that had been held by the GOP for more than a decade. FiveThirtyEight, a political polling aggregator affiliated with ABC, had forecast that Kent had a 98 percent chance of winning the race. Trump won here by 4 points two years ago.

But MGP defied the odds, winning big in purplish Clark County (Vancouver) and minimizing her losing margin in reddening Cowlitz County (Longview). The stunning upset is a tale of two cities, a tale of promise and peril for Democrats in Washington and throughout much of the U.S. It’s also a tale of two strikingly different candidates competing in a mostly (80 percent) white district that used to have a lot of manufacturing jobs.

WA-03 stretches north from Vancouver to Grand Mound in southern Thurston County, encompassing Clark, Cowlitz, and Lewis counties along that woody stretch of I-5. But it also includes Pacific and Wahkiakum counties toward the coast, as well as Skamania and Klickitat counties along the Columbia.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler was defeated here in the August primary, making this a hotly contested race for an open seat. The GOP incumbent angered her most conservative supporters when she joined just nine fellow Republicans and all House Democrats voting to impeach Trump for inspiring rioters on January 6, 2021 to storm the Capitol in a desperate effort to block congressional certification of President Biden’s election victory.

Kent, who came in second behind Gluesenkamp Perez in the primary, won Trump’s endorsement by questioning the official results of the presidential election and by treating as “political prisoners” those charged with crimes in the January 6 insurrection. He has called for an investigation of the FBI, suggesting that it – not Trump – fomented the violent attack that day.

A former Green Beret and intelligence officer, Kent survived 11 tours, mostly in Iraq, but his wife, a Navy cryptologist, did not. She was killed by an ISIS suicide bomber in Syria, leaving Joe a single father with two very young kids. He resigned his post and moved in with his parents in Portland, where he began writing opinion pieces blaming the “Administrative State” for America’s “forever wars.” He soon moved across the state line to rural Clark County, and began following far right sources on social media.

With his compelling personal story, extreme political opinions, and Hollywood good looks, Kent eventually became a favorite on FOX News, especially Tucker Carlson’s show. He also has appeared several times on Steve Bannon’s podcast. He affiliated with extremists in the House GOP caucus, including Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz. And he aligned himself with white nationalists.

Kent signaled support for the “Great Replacement” theory, suggesting that undocumented immigrants are “invading” the U.S. and replacing American workers. He also believes COVID is a scam cooked up in a lab, that the vaccines promoted to fight it represent “experimental gene therapy,” and that White House health adviser Anthony Fauci should be tried for murder. Climate change, too, is exaggerated, he argues; it is not caused by humans and efforts to combat it will only enrich the Chinese Communist Party. Russia, according to Kent, had “legitimate concerns” when it invaded Ukraine. He agreed that Ukrainian president Zelensky is a “thug.” And he favors a no-exceptions abortion ban.

As a Seattle progressive, I was thoroughly frightened by Kent and, at least initially, not terrifically wowed by MGP, who opposes, for example, a ban on assault weapons. Over time, though, I came to view her as an extraordinarily savvy politician – the kind of Democrat who could regain lost turf in white, working-class districts across the country.

Gluesenkamp Perez framed herself as a moderate “problem solver,” not an ideologue or celebrity – someone who knows how to work with her hands. She and her husband built their own home, “nail by nail,” in heavily forested Skamania County, and they co-own an auto mechanic shop in Portland. In one campaign ad, MGP emerges in coveralls from underneath a car being repaired.

She grew up in Texas, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant father who met Marie’s mother at Western Washington University. In flyers, the political newcomer stressed her family’s blue-collar roots in construction and logging. Although she graduated from Reed, perhaps the Northwest’s premier liberal arts college, the candidate carefully avoided sounding like a smarty-pants. She did discuss education but focused on high school shop classes and two-year trade schools: “We need to train people to make things.”

MGP is a mother who champions reproductive rights. But on the campaign trail, she talked most about bread and butter issues — the need for small-business, blue-collar jobs and a solid safety net. On behalf of the timber industry, she highlighted efforts to move from plastic packaging to cardboard, and to increase the manufacturing of biochar from timber slag for soil enrichment. She promised to defend Social Security and championed proposals to improve health care and social programs. On weekdays, she and her husband drive their toddler to the auto shop because they can’t avoid the cost of day care.

Her message about hard work with greasy hands resonated in Longview, a former timber town that still has a very busy port handling lumber, pulp, grain, and steel.

Longview popped up a century ago as a new home for lumber production and about 50,000 millworkers. R.A. Long, a Missouri timber baron, built it virtually from scratch, hiring an urban planner from St. Louis who designed something grand in the style of Washington DC with diagonal avenues spreading from a civic square and park. The plan incorporated a local high school, public library, YMCA, downtown hotel, and a daily newspaper – all gifts from the new overlord. (Disclosure: I used to write for that newspaper.)

With the wood-products industry in decline, Longview is smaller and a bit poorer today. It still has a population of roughly 38,000, making it the largest town in a county that once was a Democratic stronghold filled with blue-collar workers carrying union cards. However, like other American towns dominated by the so-called “white working class,” it has drifted away from the Democratic Party. While Obama won Cowlitz County by more than 11 points in 2008 and by 4 points in 2012, Trump won by more than 14 points in 2016. The MAGA leader did even better in 2020, winning by 17 points. Cowlitz was one of only four counties in Washington to become redder in that election.

In the 2022 election, MGP outpaced other Democrats on the ballot in Cowlitz County. While U.S. Sen. Patty Murray won less than 40 percent here in her bid for re-election, Gluesenkamp Perez grabbed 45 percent.

But the Democrat did best in far more populous Clark County, earning 55 percent of the vote.

What worked in Vancouver and environs was probably the negative message about Kent’s extremism. Like suburban communities around the country, Clark County is more educated (31 percent have at least a bachelors degree – almost double the share of the Cowlitz population), and a bit wealthier (with a median household income of $77,000, compared to Cowlitz’s $59,000). Folks here care about schools and crime; they favor stability. Gluesenkamp Perez hammered home the message that Kent wanted to “defund” the FBI.

In the mid-1970s, when I lived across the river in Portland, Vancouver was a small town of about 40,000. But its location along I-5 and its proximity to Portland’s international airport made it attractive to high-tech manufacturers like Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. Clark College, a two-year school, became an educational hub. And the city’s downtown underwent a successful redevelopment, making Vancouver look more like a city. But it continued to have a suburban vibe; it expanded through annexation, absorbing 30 square miles and 100,000 residents in the 1990s.

Herrera-Beutler, the Republican incumbent, used to hold her own in Clark County. Voters here may have trended Democratic, but they also appreciated that Republican’s moderation. In a hypothetical general election, JHB likely could have competed well with MGP, even in sprawling Vancouver.

The lesson for Democrats in blue-collar districts? Emphasize jobs and a solid safety net. The lesson for Democrats in suburban districts? Project pragmatism, and pray for an extremist rival.

Walter Hatch
Walter Hatch
Walter Hatch is a professor of political science at Colby College in Maine who, when not teaching, lives in Seattle's Phinneywood. He has written numerous articles and chapters on the politics of Japan and China, as well as three books on international relations, including "Ghosts in the Neighborhood: How Germany Has Escaped a Haunted Past, But Japan Has Not" (University of Michigan Press, forthcoming). Before becoming an academic, he was a journalist -- most recently for The Seattle Times.


  1. It will be interesting to see if the current media fascination with the new Congresswoman will persist, making her into an icon of a new-look Democrat who succeeds by being from the working class and talking sense to the voters. It may be that Gluesenkamp Perez will outshine the falling star of Pramila Jayapal in the Washington delegation. She could become the new formula for recapturing the working class voters for the Dems, as well as a way to reposition the falling star of Portland.

    • Agreed, David. No question that Democrats need to follow MGP’s blueprint to re-engage early and often with rural and suburban voters. MGP did many things right:

      1. She’s genuine.
      2. She worked hard and showed up in all parts of her district.
      3. She struck the right tone about women’s rights, blue collar jobs, education, public safety, social security for the elderly and more.

      Kudo’s to Walter Hatch for the fresh review.

    • “Falling star of Pramila Jayapal?” Come on, David, you’re only projecting your fond hopes and desires onto a situation that doesn’t exist.

      As for Marie, my impression of her campaign, and her victory, is that she actually benefited from being ignored by the DCCC, led by the incompetent and now thankfully gone Sean Patrick Maloney. It allowed her to develop her own local-heavy message, based on her local knowledge and lived experience, freed from the blanderized cookie-cutter messaging that would have come with DCCC aid and DCCC consultants. If this is incorrect, I hope Sandeep will correct me. But Marie’s campaign carried the ring of authenticity that voters in WA-03 could connect with.

      She didn’t back off the abortion issue, and when given a chance, she attacked Kent and his positions directly, literally to his face. She campaigned like she had nothing to lose — because she didn’t. Nobody gave her a chance.

      I don’t care that she opposes an assault weapons ban. I won’t care if she fights for projects like methanol plants and oil ports on the Columbia that enviros hate, but many of her constituents would love. If we’re going to build a strong Democratic presence in districts like these all over the country, we’ll need more candidates like Marie, and we’ll need to support them. I wrote her a check, and I’m damn glad to have helped.

      • Ivan, you’re probably correct that in the end the DCCC refusing to engage — they refused even to add her to the Red to Blue list, apparently because Maloney adamantly refused to believe this was a winnable seat — may have been a blessing in disguise in the end (though it irked us, because it meant no one believed us when we said this was a toss up race).

        As you say, Marie ran as herself, not as some cookie cutter “Dem candidate,” and that did shine through. She wasn’t afraid to call out Joe Kent on his conspiracy theory craziness and his extreme fringe-right hyperpartisanship, and she wasn’t afraid to break from Democratic Party orthodoxy either, in ways that demonstrated to many voters in the district that: (a) she will genuinely prioritize helping non-college educated blue collar families who feel (not wrongly) that they’ve been offered the short end of the stick by both parties, and (b) that she genuinely shares their values.

        Marie’s quote to Jim Brunner a couple days after the election about how she pulled off the upset I thought was pitch perfect and exactly captures why she successfully won over so many independents and less polarized Rs: “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.”

        This is the sort of message more Democrats outside of blue bastions should take to heart.

  2. As someone who lives in the 3rd District, kudos for a great summary and getting it largely right.

    First, Perez’s own “educated at Reed, living in rural Skamania County, opposing tough gun restrictions and “owning a body shop” really helped. Even so, she lost Skamania County. Footnote for the future: Jolene Unsold lost this Congressional seat because the “progressives” deserted her when she opposes stronger gun legislation.

    Some context. Perez may not have a Trump opponent next time and while the “organized Clark County” GOP is solidly pro-Kent/Trump, moderate GOP voters aren’t.

    More moderate Clark County Republicans will look elsewhere. . Already there is speculation that Jaime Herrera may try a comeback.

    The key is Cowlitz County and jobs: the author’s door belling experience. Formerly a strong Democrat, strong union County, it is is now typically a GOP safety net.

    This didn’t have to be. There were significant job opportunities in Cowlitz County which would have and still might make a difference. But solid opposition from Governor Inslee and the “progressive left” killed these and other projects.
    The timber industry, coal export, the last aluminum company, and the Kalama Methanol Project would have brought 1000’s of good jobs.

    But those jobs don’t fit the progressive left’s mold.

    Bottom line: Working people and otherwise blue collar Democrats are “collateral damage” for “progressive Democrats” greater good. Maybe over the long term this reduces global warming. But in the short term, it risks a significant “moderate Democrat” win.

  3. Thanks, Walter, for your good assessment of the 3rd District Race and for your door knocking on Marie’s behalf.
    The depressing news is that congressional officeholders face voters every two years, meaning it’s time to start running a 2024 campaign.
    Meanwhile, Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez appears a welcome addition to Washington’s congressional delegation; let’s hope she remains in office for years to come.

  4. I think it’s time to focus less on Jayapal and more on Congressional Democratic leadership, who seem unwilling and, therefore, unable to develop a strong economic message that will appeal to voters. General statements about ‘what we’ve done’ won’t work and cannot be that message. Neither will name-calling, including blaming ‘progressives,’ whoever anybody might think they are.

  5. Walter, good piece. Marie was unafraid to differentiate herself from the Democratic Party’s cultural brand — educated, urban, cosmopolitan, which is the political kiss of death in districts like WA-03 — was a key to her success. She emphasized that she was “not a typical Democrat,” citing her rural life and her working class roots. Her commitment to “protecting our freedoms,” whether it’s reproductive rights or second amendment rights — was really important.

    And the contrast we (I was part of the consulting team on the campaign) drew between her anti-partisanship and Joe’s hyper-partisan MAGA extremism was critical to winning over the moderate Republicans. Marie committed repeatedly to working across the aisle and finding common ground with Republicans, while Joe dismissed anyone who didn’t fully embrace his MAGA worldview as an enemy. She pledged to bring back federal dollars to the district to solve problems, like rising homelessness in Longview or funding to move forward quickly on the long-delayed I-5 bridge replacement across the Columbia, a priority for Chamber of Commerce types. Joe said he didn’t believe in federal spending, and instead would focus on stopping the Biden agenda in its tracks and indicting or impeaching the leadership of the current administration. And she pledged to not vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.

    I should emphasize that all of this was not just political calculation, this is who Marie is. She does believe in governing from the center, and that extreme partisanship is warping our politics and undermining our democratic institutions. Her authenticity shined through over the course of the campaign, and that as really important too.

    One of the most remarkable things for me about this election cycle in Washington was watching Republican candidates like Tiffany Smiley or Matt Larkin repeatedly refuse every opportunity to do anything substantive to differentiate themselves from the Republican brand. They offered nothing to win over moderate Democrats beyond relentless, boilerplate, highly partisan criticism of the Democratic electeds they were challenging. Like the Seattle left did last year, this year Republicans in Washington State proved they are living in a countercultural bubble that leaves them disconnected from, and alienating to, more middle of the road voters. They really convinced themselves they could win in a blue state like Washington running as red partisans. As we just saw, their take on how you win elections in tough district’s was wrong, and Marie’s was right.

  6. Excellent article, and replies. I can only add my gut hunch about her appeal: Gluesenkamp Perez brings a welcome return to civility. I don’t like that she pledged not to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker; that seems like ageism to me. But despite that, she doesn’t seem overly hostile. She sounds like a grown-up.


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