The field of Republican challengers for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District will soon get more crowded.
State Rep. Vicki Kraft, a conservative in east Vancouver who has fought COVID-19 precautions and backed false claims about the results of the 2020 election, told fellow Republicans on Tuesday night she intends to enter the 2022 race.
At a quarterly meeting of the Clark County Republican Party, Kraft reportedly asked to speak ahead of the meeting’s planned agenda at The Heathman Lodge. Kraft then told the crowd that, after praying, she decided to make the congressional run.
“I was surprised by the announcement,” said Clark County Republican Party Chairman Joel Mattila. “It definitely throws a curveball into the whole race.”
Kraft, who is facing the possibility of getting drawn out of her district due to updated maps following the 2020 Census, did not return multiple requests for comment Tuesday evening and Wednesday. The Federal Election Commission does not show Kraft has officially filed to run. The filing deadline in Washington isn’t until May.
Multiple attendees told OPB the crowd was surprised to hear Kraft enter the race, which has already fielded two frontrunning Republican challengers for nearly a year.
“I think there’s a lot of people that know her well and appreciate her,” said David Gellatly, a member of the local party’s executive board. “But you can tell on people’s faces there wasn’t overall enthusiasm because most of the people in the room are already supporting another candidate.”
One candidate, Heidi St. John, attended the meeting Tuesday night, multiple attendees said. St. John did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.
The crowded field in the race for the congressional seat, currently held by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, also includes political outsider Joe Kent, who has gained national recognition for his endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Kent said Kraft’s decision complicated the race.
“It’s definitely a concern about her jumping in, but I’m going to keep reaching out to as many people as I can,” Kent said. “I hope there’s a way to coalesce support before the primary.”
Brent Hennrich, the frontrunning challenger from the Democratic party, said little has changed for him.
“Adding an additional Republican to the race is for the voters to decide who they feel will best represent them in the end,” Hennrich said in a statement. “I continue my voter outreach efforts every day and that is the cornerstone of my candidacy and future representation of the district.”
Parker Truax, a spokesman for Herrera Beutler, said the congresswoman “remains focused on her mission to serve the residents of Southwest Washington.”
“Nobody will work harder than her to deliver results for this region,” Truax said.
For Kraft, the decision may be motivated by her tenuous future in the state’s 17th legislative district. Although the Washington Redistricting Commission missed its deadline – the state Supreme Court now has to finalize maps by April 30 – the commission’s final plan showed Kraft as one of seven legislators to be drawn out.
Kraft, elected in 2017, has made headlines most recently for various attempts to fight COVID-19 precautions. Less than a month into Washington’s first lockdown, she joined hundreds of protesters in Olympia to oppose the stay-at-home orders.
Kraft has also repeated conspiracy theories about the November 2020 election. In August, she wrote to Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman to demand a so-called forensic audit, saying there are “many questions and issues to be addressed regarding our November 2020 elections.”
Of the state’s 4 million votes in the November 2020 election, Washington’s county auditors reported 172 potential cases of ballot fraud to state officials, according to members of Washington’s Senate Elections Committee.