Democrats flipped a Washington House seat that had been dominated by Republicans since 2011, NBC News projected Saturday, as the legacy of Jan. 6 and the subsequent impeachment of former President Donald Trump cast a powerful shadow over the race.
Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, first elected to represent Washington’s 3rd Congressional District in 2010 and one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Capitol riot, was ousted in the 2022 GOP primary after the former president targeted her for political retribution by backing political newcomer Joe Kent.
Now Kent, a former Green Beret who criticized Beutler for her impeachment vote and who has shared conspiracy theories about voting, will lose to business owner Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat.
"If Beutler had been the Republican nominee, she'd have won with 60% of the vote by now," said Chris Vance, the former chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, in an interview before NBC News projected the race.
Vance said there were three items that swayed this year's election: Perez is a good candidate, Kent is "the freakiest of the MAGA freaks" and the Portland suburbs, which are included in the 3rd District, have been swinging slightly to the left.
The problem for Republicans is that the base has turned further to the right, he added, and it is leaving behind elected officials who can appeal to the party, independents and even some conservative Democrats. GOP primaries, Vance said, are no longer electing the best candidates because the base is more interested in ties to Trump.
"If you're a Republican elected official, you've got to keep your head down," said Vance, who left the party after Trump's election. "Because if you poke your head up, like [Beutler] did, the base will chop it off. But then their candidates are out of step with most voters, which is why they did not win this election."
Beutler's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Multiple media organizations have reported on Kent's ties to right-wing groups. The Associated Press reported that he had paid Graham Jorgenson, who was identified by law enforcement as a member of the Proud Boys, more than $11,000 for "consulting" work during the primary. He also became a close political ally of Joey Gibson, who founded the Christian nationalist group Patriot Prayer, which has orchestrated a number of violent rallies in the Pacific Northwest.
Kent's own top adviser was one of the organizers of a rally last year called "Justice for J6," which aimed to cast those arrested for their participation in Jan. 6 as "political prisoners" and had Kent as one of its guest speakers, according to the AP.
The Republican candidate may have also hurt his chances by actively discouraging his supporters from voting early or by mail, claiming that those methods of voting were not as secure as showing up to the polls on Election Day.
Gluesenkamp Perez avoided talking about party politics while emphasizing her rural background and her family's long ties to Washington state.