Donors are already hoping to shower U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler with gratitude for breaking party ranks to speak against former President Donald Trump, according to one wealthy benefactor.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear how her constituents will respond, but at least one political expert believes Herrera Beutler’s independent streak is likely to strengthen her hold on Southwest Washington.
The representative from Battle Ground thrust herself into the national spotlight on Friday, when she further implicated Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riot, corroborating a heated phone call between Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House GOP leader.
Her statement, first reported by The Daily News newspaper in Longview, Washington, was entered as evidence Saturday in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial.
“It’s another demonstration of tremendous principle and personal courage,” said David Nierenberg, a career investor who lives in Camas, Washington. Nierenberg, a close friend and former colleague of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is also the largest political donor in the district.
“I have told Jaime… I will do everything that I can do to raise contributions for her not only from people I know in this district, not only people throughout the Pacific Northwest but many friends all around the country,” Nierenberg said.
That financial call-to-arms comes as moderate Republicans like Nierenberg anticipate a confrontation with the district’s Trump supporters.
Southwest Washington, once a reliably blue Democratic stronghold comprising middle-class, blue-collar workers, has become more purple in recent years as those jobs have dwindled. The district encompasses seven counties and favored Trump in 2016 and in 2020.
Rural stretches of the district may favor Trump, but its most populous county, Clark County, overlaps with the Portland metropolitan area. Its population has grown in recent years and still consistently skews Democrat. Biden won Clark County in 2020 by five points.
Nierenberg said he’s receiving calls locally, regionally and across the country from people who want to support Herrera Beutler should she run again in 2022.
“There should be no question that Jaime will be capable of running a very well-financed, and well-focused campaign,” said Nierenberg, who gave $11,200 to Herrera Beutler’s re-election campaign last fall. He also contributed to the campaigns of President Joe Biden, Alaska’s Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and presidential primary hopeful Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat.
“And if her potential adversaries want to make character and ethics among their issues, I would just say they should be very careful what they wish for,” he added.
Herrera Beutler electrified her constituents a month ago when she joined nine other Republicans to break ranks and vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Outcry erupted among Republican organizations that still supported the president. The Clark County Republican Women said Herrera Beutler would “never receive our votes or support again.”
The day after the impeachment vote, Joel Mattila, chair of the Clark County Republican Party, also said his phone had been “blowing up all day long from old party regulars to just your average voters, and there is a lot of disappointment.”
Reached by phone Saturday, Mattila said Herrera Beutler’s latest moves continue to frustrate conservatives.
“She’s obviously doubling down,” he said. “Not only did she vote to impeach, but she became the star witness in the Democrats’ impeachment charade.”
Mattila couldn’t say whether any conservative candidates are in line to challenge Herrera Beutler, but he said someone certainly will — calling it a “foregone conclusion.”
“They feel betrayed,” he said. “They feel betrayed by what the congresswoman has been doing over the last month and a half.”
Herrera Beutler has proved a political heavyweight in the district. First elected in 2010, she has regularly won elections by double digits. Her closest race was in 2018 against Democratic challenger Carolyn Long, whom she beat by five points. But Herrera Beutler won the 2020 rematch by 13 points.
Washington state has an open, top-two primary system, meaning two candidates of the same party could theoretically advance to the general.
Mark Stephan, an associate professor of political science at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus, said Herrera Beutler is likely making up for any lost conservative voters by picking up more centrists.
“I could see a primary in 2022 where Republicans put forward a very clear Trump candidate. Her weakness will be on the right,” he said. “But I think there will be Democrats who will vote for her because they felt she acted courageously in this case.”
Stephan noted the ramifications will take shape in the year ahead.
Now that Herrera Beutler has been so vocal in Trump’s second impeachment, her future, and that of other Republicans who broke rank, will likely be inversely influenced by Trump’s control over the Republican party.
“That could serve her incredibly well in the years ahead if the party decides it needs to go in a new direction from where it’s been the last four years,” he said. “Or this could put her in this very distinct minority that is just left to the margins.”