There will be a new face in Congress representing Southwest Washington come January. That person — whomever voters pick — will be an untested politician with deep concerns about the economy.
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez lives in rural Skamania County and is the Democrat running for the 3rd Congressional District seat. The 34-year-old is attempting to persuade not just left-leaning voters but moderate Republicans that she is the best choice to help the district’s working class.
Joe Kent is a Republican endorsed by former President Donald Trump. The 42-year-old conjures a bureaucratic cabal of Democrats and Republicans, which he deems the “establishment,” as being responsible for America’s ails. He’s hedging that voters won’t stomach more Democratic rule in the U.S. House.
The race has drawn national attention. Political observers across the country consider it a microcosm of the current political moment; and a lab test of whether far-right conservatism can win a politically purple district.
Heading into November, both candidates have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend. According to the latest financial reports, Gluesenkamp Perez has about $777,478 in her war chest compared with Kent’s $327,081.
On the issues, the candidates rarely agree. They overlap slightly by professing jobs and the economy as the district’s biggest issues. They disagree on topics ranging from reproductive rights to immigration to the country’s electoral system.
Kent believes the 2020 Election was stolen, which Trump attorneys have never proven in court. In a recent debate, however, he gave a half-hearted “Yeah” when asked if Joe Biden is the lawfully elected president.
Despite the fringe viewpoints, national prognosticators believe Kent has the edge with 3rd District voters. The Cook Political Report says the district “Leans Republican,” and the analytics website FiveThirtyEight projects Kent to win 97 times out of 100.
A fresh face
Although one candidate will become Washington 3rd’s next face in D.C., both are new to politics and to the region.
Kent moved to rural Clark County in 2020, following the death of his wife — a U.S. Navy cryptologist — in a 2019 suicide bombing in Syria. Kent had expected to be a soldier in some form his entire career, he said. He served multiple tours of duty as a Green Beret and had a stint with the CIA.
After his wife’s death, Kent supported Trump’s re-election campaign and hoped to join Trump’s second administration.
His own political career officially launched to unseat an “establishment” Republican. In January 2021, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, joined nine other Republicans in voting to impeach Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
In the August primary, Kent edged out the incumbent for the second and final position on the November ballot. Washington’s top-two primary system — also known as a “jungle primary” — does not separate by party.
The primary’s first-place finisher: Gluesenkamp Perez. She cornered the market on the district’s Democrats by being the only non-Republican candidate.
Gluesenkamp Perez came to the Pacific Northwest for college. She moved to Portland in 2007 to attend Reed College, where she studied economics. She then moved to Washington in 2013.
Gluesenkamp Perez was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Her father emigrated from Mexico and operated a Spanish-language church. There, she saw congregates from Central and South America face deportation.
Gluesenkamp Perez claims Northwestern roots, however. Her mother’s family dates back to loggers in Washington territory, she said, with her great-grandparents buried near the Lewis County town of Tenino. Today, she runs an auto shop in Portland with her husband.
Her congressional campaign started, in part, because she views Kent as too extreme. Kent has held campaign events with figures like Joey Gibson, of Patriot Prayer; and at one point had a paid staffer who was at one time a member of the Proud Boys, as first reported by the Associated Press. In the spring, he had to distance himself from white nationalists.
Gluesenkamp Perez contends Kent would be a fringe politician, unable to pass bills in D.C.
Kent, in debates and on social media, has attempted to similarly portray his opponent as extreme. He points to an Instagram post by Gluesenkamp Perez’s auto shop that offered pro bono maintenance for leaf blowers, which were used by some to waft away tear gas during the height of Portland’s 2020 social justice protests.
On the issues
Politically, the pair have little in common.
Perhaps the closest thing resembling agreement between the two is their promises to protect Southwest Washington workers. The working class is pinched, both candidates said, and faces a most uncertain future.
Kent supports rolling back federal environmental protections that are often blamed for hurting natural resources jobs, like coal mining, timber logging and commercial fishing. In a recent debate, he contended fishermen and loggers would better protect forests and salmon runs.
Gluesenkamp Perez agrees federal policies hurt those workers but doesn’t go so far as to unwind environmental protections. She supports investment in “green jobs,” and expanding the definition of those jobs to include, for example, electricians installing heat pumps in homes.
The candidates disagree on immigration. Kent supports building a border wall, as well as clamping down on the H-1B visa program that helps American companies hire foreign workers for specialized occupations. Kent also proposes denying U.S. citizenship to any person who arrived illegally.
Gluesenkamp Perez has said curbing legal immigration would be “economic sabotage.” She does call for streamlining the amnesty process at the U.S.-Mexico border to clear a backlog and dissuade people with valid amnesty claims from illegally crossing the border.
Reproductive rights have become a central issue to both campaigns in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overruling of Roe v. Wade. Kent supports the decision, as well as legislation that makes abortions illegal even in cases of rape or incest. Gluesenkamp Perez is pro-choice.
Kent also supports overhauling many of the current elections systems. Kent believes the vote-by-mail systems used by states like Oregon and Washington are rife with fraud, despite no evidence to support the claim.
Gluesenkamp Perez supports vote-by-mail. The Democrat describes such claims as sowing doubt in the Democratic process.
If elected, both candidates say they would prioritize fighting inflation. Gluesenkamp Perez said the best way of doing that would be to regulate oil and gas companies and levy more taxes on big corporations.
Kent, on the other hand, believes the best course is to increase domestic production of oil, natural gas and other energy sources. He also has called for cutting back federal spending.