Soon after 2018’s election for Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District proved unexpectedly competitive, political pundits started issuing predictions: 2020 would be a hotly contested race.
Based on the latest quarterly fundraising numbers reported by the frontrunners — the same candidates who ran two years ago and are gearing up for a rematch, after an impeachment, a global pandemic and sustained anti-racism protests — those predictions are proving to be correct.
In the second quarter of 2020, both top candidates brought in approximately double the campaign donations compared with the same period in 2018.
The incumbent, Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Battle Ground brought in just over $764,000 from March to June, trouncing her second quarter fundraising in the last election, when she raised about $454,000.
Her foremost challenger, Democrat Carolyn Long of Vancouver also dwarfed her prior fundraising benchmark, raking in $682,000 over the past three months. In spring of 2018, during her first run, Long had raised just shy of $326,000.
With ballots on their way to voters for the Aug. 4 primary, both candidates are sitting on formidable war chests. Herrera Beutler has nearly $1.85 million cash on hand. Long has $1.58 million. The last time around, the candidates at this point had $1 million and $311,568, respectively.
Spokespeople for each campaign tout the local, small-dollar donors that make up most of those sums. Both used the phrase “grassroots support.”
According to Parker Truax, media spokesman for Herrera Beutler’s campaign, small donors have made up 91 percent of her contributors in this cycle so far.
“We received more than 16,000 contributions under $50,” Truax wrote in an email to The Columbian. “It’s clear that there is incredible grassroots support for Jaime and her effective work on behalf of Southwest Washington residents.”
In a media release, Long’s campaign manager, Abby Olmstead, reported that low-dollar donations to her candidate also constituted 91 percent of the total. Additionally, Olmstead added, 77 percent of those donors were local.
Long is also sticking to her 2018 pledge to not take any corporate PAC dollars, she pointed out.
“This impressive fundraising quarter is another demonstration of the incredible grassroots support for Carolyn Long here in the district — and a testament to the fact that Southwest Washington is ready for new leadership,” Olmstead said in the media release.
The expanded war chests reflect the heightened stakes of the upcoming election.
Washington’s 3rd Congressional District has found itself the subject of national interest, after a decade spent as one of the few solid conservative bastions on the West Coast. That’s a new development; prior to 2018, Herrera Beutler had trounced her Democratic challengers by at least 20 points in 2016, 2014 and 2012. The Cook Political Report classified the district as “Solidly Republican” ahead of each match-up.
But in 2018, when Long challenged the incumbent for the first time, the race was much closer. She lost with 47.3 percent of the vote, to Herrera Beutler’s 52.3.
The unexpectedly close contest caught the attention of both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In January 2019, the DCCC identified the seat as one of 33 red targets in the House; three months later, the NRCC put the district on its “Patriot Program” list, identifying it as one of the eight most vulnerable Republican-held seats.
And Friday, Cook Political Report upgraded its assessment of the district for a second time, switching it from “Likely Republican” — already a shift toward the center from the “Solid” designation its held since 2012 — to “Lean Republican,” which is one step away from a “Toss Up” district.
Adding to the stakes, this year’s general election is a presidential one. Referendums on President Donald Trump’s first term will likely trickle down the ballot to congressional races, and more people vote when the president is on the ballot. In Clark County, the last four midterms saw voter turnout as low as 50 percent and as high as 69 percent, while turnout rates in the last four presidential elections have ranged from 77 percent to 85 percent.
Filling out the bench
Long and Herrera Beutler, though they have enormous head starts, aren’t the only candidates for Congress who will appear on the primary election ballots next month.
Three other people are running for the seat, including two Democrats and one independent.
The Democrats are Davy Ray of Stevenson and Devin Gray of Vancouver. Both filed their candidacies with the Clark County Elections Office, though neither Ray nor Gray have reported campaign donations to the FEC, a requirement once a campaign raises funds in excess of $5,000.
Ray has a campaign website, on which he lays out his platform and pledges to “fight to make Washington’s 3rd as strong as it can be.”
Independent candidate Martin Hash of Vancouver is also running for the position. He, too, has not filed any fundraising data with the FEC, though his campaign website is live and his “Martin Hash for Facebook” page remains active. He’s launched multiple unsuccessful bids for seats in the state and federal House over the last 12 years.
All five candidates will face off in the Aug. 4 primary election, with the top two advancing to the Nov. 3 general election.
Ballots were sent to Clark County’s registered voters on Friday, but residents who still need to register to vote can do so online until July 27 as long as they have a valid Washington driver’s license or identification.
After July 27, they can register at the county’s elections office, 1408 Franklin St., in Vancouver, until the end of Election Day.