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The district’s a tossup, the representative’s a newcomer and Washington didn’t help her get elected. Now what?
Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.), the only freshman Democrat elected in a district President Joe Biden lost, has shunned party-line voting more often than almost everyone else in her caucus. If she continues resisting the preferences of party leaders, it might help her win a possible rematch next November.
“The pressure to vote in line with your party is just immense in DC,” she said in an interview.
Washington state’s southwestern 3rd District includes some suburbs and rural areas across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore. It narrowly went for Donald Trump in 2020, favoring him by 51%-46%. Two years later, Gluesenkamp Perez won by eight-tenths of one percentage point. It’s the kind of district Democrats need to keep if they’re to have any chance of flipping control of the US House.
“Both parties need to assume that this is a district that can go either way, that it’s very much up for play,” said Mark Stephan, a political scientist at Washington State University Vancouver. “If you’re trying to swing the whole Congress in one direction or another, you can’t ignore the 3rd District.”
So far, Gluesenkamp Perez has voted with her party 75% of the time when most Democrats went one way and most Republicans went the other, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government. That “party unity” mark is the third-lowest among Democrats.
Only Reps. Jared Golden (Maine), a co-chair with Gluesenkamp Perez in the Blue Dog Coalition, and Don Davis (N.C.) scored lower.
She deviated from the pack when she was one of the two Democrats who voted to rescind Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan (H J Res 45). She was among just four Democrats who voted for House Republicans’ energy package (H.R. 1). And she bucked most Democrats on partisan votes more than 40 other times her first five months in Congress.
Gluesenkamp Perez said she drew “the wrath of internet warriors” after she opposed Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan on the grounds it didn’t make commensurate investments in career and technical education.
“There was a protest organized in my automotive shop and they bombed my Google reviews online,” she said.
Gluesenkamp Perez said Democratic leaders generally understand she has to break rank from time to time on votes, though she attracts unwanted attention when she does.
“Everybody sort of intellectually gets it, but then there’s always a freak out when I actually do it,” she said.
And of course it comes from the other side, too. GOP groups have criticized her for voting against Republicans on border security (H.R. 2), parents’ rights in education (H.R. 5), and repealing billions of dollars of Internal Revenue Service funding to bolster the agency’s audit program (H.R. 23).
Going It Alone
Last year, the Washington state district produced two under-the-radar surprises.
In an all-candidate, single-ballot “Top 2″ primary, Gluesenkamp Perez placed first and former Army Green Beret Joe Kent (R) took second to oust six-term Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R), a mainstream conservative who came in third after voting to impeach Trump.
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Gluesenkamp Perez beat Kent in the general election as Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) lost the 3rd District by 8 points — meaning ticket-splitters who voted Republican for Senate preferred her in the House race. Gluesenkamp Perez’s locally-focused campaign contrasted with Kent’s more nationalized effort that aligned with Trump.
Kent is running again. Nonpartisan political analysts including the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales all rate the 2024 contest as a “tossup.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, didn’t direct any independent expenditures to the district in the 2022 election. Now it has included Gluesenkamp Perez in its “Frontline” incumbent-protection program for 2024.
Gluesenkamp Perez raised $824,000 in the first three months of 2023, the second-highest total among the 29 Frontline Democrats. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave to Gluesenkamp Perez’s campaign through their campaign committees and leadership PACs.
Gluesenkamp Perez said she’s expecting her opposition to have more out-of-state help, too.
In her matchup against Kent, his party “assumed in a Trump plus-five district he had it locked up. That will not be the case this time,” she said. “We’re going to need to be deliberate and persistent to make sure we’ve got the resources and we’ve done the real community-building to hold the seat.”
Stephan said he expected Gluesenkamp Perez to “basically follow the same playbook” from her successful 2022 election.
“The interesting thing to me will be whether Kent modifies in any sort of way, whether he starts to focus much more intensely locally, whether he downplays the question of Donald Trump,” Stephan said. “Which arguably he should, because he’ll be running against a incumbent who’s a Democrat, not against someone in his own party.”
Unlike in the 2022 election, Gluesenkamp Perez will have a voting record to defend. She also may be vulnerable to a more personal line of attack because of a late property tax payment on her family’s auto repair shop.
Ben Petersen, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, previewed one of the lines of attack she can expect.
“It’s clear Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’s campaign was a house of cards built with flimsy promises she hasn’t kept. Now Gluesenkamp Perez can’t cloak her extreme voting record, so southwest Washington voters will replace her next year,” he said.
“Unlike last time, she won’t be able to disguise herself as a moderate,” Kent said in a statement. “I’m confident my common sense Republican message will defeat her and her record of liberal Portland extremism.”
Democrats probably would revive attacks on Kent as a far-right extremist who would defund the FBI and ban abortion.
Meanwhile, like every incumbent, Gluesenkamp Perez is preparing for the next election while learning her job, beginning with bills that have a local and bipartisan bent. She introduced measures to promote more research into microplastics in the sludge that’s spread on farmland, and to bolster a US Forest Service grant program that promotes wood products and renewable wood energy. Timber is one of the district’s main industries.
Another bipartisan measure would expand child-care availability in agricultural and rural areas. Of the 72 bills she’s cosponsored, 39 are sponsored by Republicans and 33 by Democrats.
“I think that the party puts a lot of emphasis on flipping seats and not enough emphasis on what it takes to actually hold seats,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “It takes a lot more energy to think independently and think in line with your district.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org