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Will Trump’s revenge campaign backfire in Washington state?

caption: Democrat Doug White.
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Democrat Doug White.

Washington’s 4th Congressional District cuts through the middle of the state, from the Canadian border all the way south to the Columbia River. A Democrat hasn't won it since Jay Inslee back in the mid-1990s.

But businessman Doug White thinks he has a shot at the seat this fall, after running a successful campaign in the district’s primary election.

Part of his campaign plan is to energize younger voters and underrepresented communities, including Latinos in Yakima, where he lives.

“We have an outpouring of support from so many different groups that are now aware of the fact that not only is there a place at the table, but they are welcome at the table,” White said.

In interviews and campaign events, White emphasizes growing up in a “fourth generation farming family,” and a union household: His dad was a pipefitter who worked at the Hanford nuclear facility. It’s a personal story that seems tailor-made for the 4th Congressional District.

But White’s party affiliation as a Democrat is a big strike against him, according to political consultant Ben Anderstone.

“This is a district dominated by rural, small-town, and small-city voters, most of whom are white and conservative,” Anderstone said. It’s the most Republican-voting district in Washington state.

Unlike White, incumbent Republican and farmer Dan Newhouse is conservative. He gets a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee, for example, and an "A" from the National Rifle Association’s political victory fund. Newhouse has also been re-elected four times.

In a normal election year, Democrats wouldn’t stand a chance. But Democrats hope this isn't a normal year.

That’s because former President Trump has been heavily involved in Washington’s primaries, seeking revenge against Republicans who voted to impeach him, including not just Newhouse in the 4th, but also Jaime Herrera Beutler in the 3rd Congressional District.

Herrera Beutler conceded her primary this week to her Trump-backed challenger, while Newhouse survived the former president’s wrath. Democrats in both districts believe the chaos and rancor within the Republican Party can work to their advantage this fall, albeit differently.

The race for the 4th drew several Republican challengers loyal to Trump, who spent months blasting Newhouse for his vote to impeach, including former police chief and gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, state lawmaker Brad Klippert, marketer Corey Gibson, army vet Benancio "Benny" Garcia III, and businessmen Jerrod Sessler.

Trump’s pick in the race, Loren Culp, spent months calling Newhouse names like “swamp monster” and “RINO” (short for “Republican in name only”) over the incumbent’s vote to impeach Trump. In an email to KUOW after it was clear he would not make it through to the general election, Culp refused to say if he will endorse Newhouse, even though Newhouse is the last Republican standing in the race for the 4th. The Newhouse campaign did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.

Linsdey Keesling, Doug White's campaign manager, said she believes many Trump loyalists in the district are done with Newhouse.

"I think there's just a general sense of frustration,” she said.

Keesling said many Republicans she knows personally in central Washington would rather see a Democrat win this year, “then to actually continue to work with Newhouse and allow the in-fighting to continue.” The rationale is that a Trump disciple could then easily defeat Democrat Doug White in 2024.

Political consultant Ben Anderstone is skeptical that antagonism over Newhouse’s impeachment vote will be enough help for Doug White. He said a Democrat has almost no chance of winning in a district that’s as heavily Republican as the 4th, even when far-right voters aren't crazy about the Republican candidate in the race.

“It’s really just not something historically that happens,” Anderstone said.

But he thinks Democrats have a better chance at flipping the Republican-held seat in the 3rd Congressional District, in southwest Washington. This year, a Democrat will face Trump-backed candidate Joe Kent, who knocked off incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler after she voted to impeach.

Trump won in the 3rd in 2020, but only by about 4 percentage points. This week, election analysts at the Cook Political Report changed their rating of the district from “solid” to “lean Republican'' after Herrera Beutler lost.

The new Cook forecast has more to do with Joe Kent, whose “far right politics” could put the district “in play," the report said.

In interviews and campaign events, Kent frequently voices election conspiracy theories, and has embraced the racist “Great Replacement theory.” Democrats argue that Kent's views are too extreme for voters in the 3rd, and that their candidate – auto repair shop owner Marie Gluesenkamp Perez – can win it.

Anderstone still calls it a long shot. But if Gluesenkamp Perez pulls it off, she might have Trump's effort to root out dissident Republicans to thank.

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