In a race viewed by many as a microcosm of America’s political climate, middle-of-the-road Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez jumped out to a narrow, early lead Tuesday night over Donald Trump-endorsed Joe Kent as they bid to become Southwest Washington’s next congressperson.
The race is too close to call. County election officials in the district, which touches seven counties, expect ballot tabulation to last multiple days.
The initial ballot drop showed Gluesenkamp Perez jumped out to a nearly 6-point lead, with 100,564 votes to Kent’s 89,441.
Nationally, the race has drawn headlines as a gauge of the viability of centrist politics. In August, voters in the politically purple district cast off U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. The incumbent had billed herself as a moderate Republican, yet she could not survive the backlash of her vote to impeach the former president in the wake of Jan. 6.
The race has since pitted Kent’s far-right platform against Gluesenkamp Perez’s left-of-center appeals. Both acknowledge the race would likely be decided by Herrera Beutler supporters searching for their next political home.
Gluesenkamp Perez has so far been buoyed by Clark County, the largest county in the district and the closest to the Portland metropolitan area. There, she outpaced Kent by 20,000 votes Tuesday night.
Kent, meanwhile, predictably carried the conservative counties in suburban and rural areas.
The soldier-turned-politician carried a 30-point lead in the reliably Republican stronghold of Lewis County, the third most populous county in the district. And in Cowlitz, the second most populous, he edged his challenger by about 3.5 percentage points.
The candidates’ vote totals won’t change until Wednesday. Election officials told OPB they are not releasing any more ballots on Election Day.
The Kent campaign viewed the early results indifferently. Campaign manager Ozzie Gonzalez spoke shortly after the ballot drops and said they expect future vote totals to skew in their favor. He predicted more Republicans delivered their ballots on Election Day rather than using the state’s vote-by-mail system.
“We don’t think these results are really reflective of what the results will be,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll know more Wednesday, Thursday as they continue to process ballots.”
Gonzalez noted that Kent initially trailed Herrera Beutler in the Aug. 2 primary, only to climb back and edge the incumbent out. Gonzalez added that Kent intends on “respecting the results.”
Initial reactions of the ballot totals at Kent’s campaign were not clear to most reporters. At a venue in rural Clark County, Kent’s campaign staff declined to allow entry for reporters from multiple outlets, including OPB, the Seattle Times and KGW television station.
Gluesenkamp Perez, meanwhile, took confidence in the early results. She agreed the numbers will change, but doubted the Kent campaign could see a similar comeback win they saw in the primary.
“Our numbers will definitely change in the next few days. I don’t think it will be as drastic as the primary,” she told OPB. “Data shows that people that participate in primaries tend to be much more polarized than people who participate in general elections.”
The Portland auto shop owner, who lives in rural Skamania County, has tried to run a left-of-center campaign. She eschewed “globalist” trade policies that Democrats nationally have pushed in recent years, while touting herself as a gunowner and descendent of Pacific Northwest loggers.
She launched her campaign in part because she viewed Kent as too extreme, while also saying she was concerned about economic issues that have led to high home prices and rising costs of child care.
“I think America is really hungry for a Congress that looks like America — that gets it. How hard it is to pay your mortgage and find child care,” she said. “I’m really grateful to find my place, in a position to communicate clearly who I am, what I believe in, to voters in Southwest Washington. And to rise above the noise of clickbait politics.”
This is a developing story and may be updated.