Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is leading first-time Democratic challenger Carolyn Long 52.2 percent to 47.8 percent in early election night returns, and could cap a contentious campaign for Washington’s Third Congressional District House seat with a victory.
The four-term incumbent, one of the Republican party’s rising stars, could hold onto her seat despite the nationwide blue wave sweeping GOP incumbents out of office and Democrats into the majority in the House of Representatives.
Half an hour after results started being tallied, Long had a 5,000-vote lead in Clark County, which includes the city of Vancouver, but Herrera Beutler had the edge in the district’s other counties – Thurston, Pacific, Lewis, Skamania, Klickitat, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum – giving her about a 10,000-vote lead overall.
Election Day capped a hard-fought battle between the two women that focused on health care and the two candidates’ commitment to voters in rural southwestern Washington.
Long, who has taught political science at Washington State University, Vancouver, for 22 years but moved to Washington from Salem, Oregon, just last year, was frequently criticized as an outsider and carpetbagger. And Herrera Beutler was chided by constituents over the years for preferring conference calls to in-person town halls with voters.
That might not be enough to oust Herrera Beutler from her House seat, even amid a poor national environment for Republicans and facing her toughest re-election battle yet. Long’s bid gained momentum in August, after the Democratic challenger finished within seven percentage points of Herrera Beutler in a crowded primary battle.
The third district was supposed to be safe for the GOP, as Herrera Beutler had cruised to re-election in past election cycles. But as October polling showed a single-digit race and Long drastically out-fundraised the Republican incumbent, outside groups on both sides stepped in, combining to spend millions of dollars in the race’s final month.
Arthur Milani, an 18-year-old from Vancouver, Washington, said he voted for Long because he thinks she’ll work to reduce college costs and connect with voters.
“Long holds town halls and listens to people,” said Milani, who attends the University of Washington. “Herrera Beutler has, frankly, done very little of either over the past few years.”
But Herrera Beutler’s team is optimistic about her chances.
“We feel very good about where we are,” Herrera Beutler spokeswoman Angeline Riesterer said after results started coming in. “We’re confident that Jaime’s lead will get even larger in the coming ballot counts.”