VANCOUVER, Wash. — Democrat Carolyn Long knows how to make an entrance.
After parking her car in front of the union office where she will greet volunteers for her insurgent congressional campaign, the 51-year-old political science professor at Washington State University darts back out into traffic to help a woman push her stalled Nissan Sentra out of a busy intersection.
“Be careful!” Long’s communications director, Will Casey, yells as he runs after her.
As the stranded vehicle rolls safely into the lot, Long, wearing khaki cargo pants, tennis shoes and a navy T-shirt advertising her candidacy, waves to the driver and enters the Labor Center. “She was crying for help,” she explains.
Roughly 75 supporters, most energized by disgust with President Trump, are milling around a hastily assembled hard-shell taco bar and picking up packets of brochures and talking points for Long’s bid to unseat four-term incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington’s 3rd District, the southwestern quadrant of the state along the Columbia River.
When asked what motivated her to go door-to-door for Long on a Saturday, retired teacher Betty Cooper, 67, reels off a litany of complaints about Trump that included “the kids on the border, the crookedness, the constant lies.” But she’s also angry at Herrera Beutler, who she views as an enabler of the president’s agenda.
“She came in in 2010 when the Tea Party had their wave. Now it’s 2018 and it’s time for a blue wave,” Cooper said. “She’s gone because she’s not a moderate. She says she didn’t vote for Trump but she supports everything he does. She won’t hold him accountable.”
Shaking hands with volunteers, Long says she agrees with those who have come to view Herrera Beutler as the next best thing to a rubber stamp for Trump. “She’s very much in favor of his policies,” Long says.
Herrera Beutler, 39, takes issue with that characterization, and often points out that she refused to vote for Trump in 2016, writing in Paul Ryan’s name on the ballot instead.
“Some of the biggest proposals President Trump had I had to stand against, like the health care bill,” Herrera Beutler told Yahoo News in a Friday telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “And I had to tell him, ‘I’m sorry; this isn’t keeping the promise [of replacing Obamacare with something better] that you and I made to voters, so I can’t support it.’ I stood up to him on drilling off the coast. That would have had a pretty negative impact on our crabbing and fishing industries.”
Still, according to the website FiveThirtyEight, since Trump became president, Herrera Beutler has voted with him 91 percent of the time.
When the crowd sits down, Geni Donaghey — a volunteer with Swing Left, a liberal grassroots group that has been identifying Democrats they believe can help the party retake control of the House of Representatives — presents Long with an oversized novelty check for $46,528.90. “But since we had this made, the amount has gone up,” Donaghey says. “We’re actually giving her $119,000.”
While Herrera Beutler’s campaign has so far received roughly a third of its total donations from Political Action Committees, she has raised three times as much money as Long through July 18. Yet the advantages of incumbency have been limited in a year when many voters are seeking to put up a roadblock to Trump’s agenda.
“I certainly wouldn’t say I’m worried,” Herrera Beutler says. “I would say that this year voters are definitely sitting up and paying attention because there is so much noise coming out of Washington, D.C., so I definitely think there will be increased participation, increased interest.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has also added Herrara Beutler’s name to an ever-expanding list of Republican incumbents it believes are vulnerable in 2018. “We are constantly assessing the battlefield for newly competitive races,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law told Yahoo News in an email. With Trump’s disapproval rating in Washington state reaching 60 percent in August, according to a Morning Consult tracking poll, it’s no wonder Democrats are competing in every corner of the state.
When the meeting adjourns and the volunteers fan out across the city, Long, Casey and I drive to a nearby middle-class neighborhood of one- and two-story homes where she will ring the doorbells of residents the campaign believes remain undecided in the House race. As we talk during the ride, it becomes apparent that if Herrera Beutler’s dilemma this cycle is how to explain her pro-Trump voting record, Long’s may be how to come off as more than just anti-Trump. After the 2010 census, the 3rd District was redrawn to exclude liberal-leaning Olympia, and Trump took it in 2016 by seven points.
“I try not to make the election about Trump, because I think that is a mistake,” Long says. “We want to be for something rather than against something. What I talk about is the need for a constitutional check on the administration, and even though Trump is an easy target, the Republican Party’s complicity with what Trump is doing is the real story here.”
Like so many Democratic women across the country, Long was, in fact, inspired to run for office out of antipathy for Trump. But her approach to politics is much more than a visceral protest. For 23 years, she has taught political science at Washington State University Vancouver, including a course on America’s political polarization and deteriorating civic discourse. Married to a Republican who voted for Trump, it’s a subject that’s close to her heart.
“When you come from a Republican family and when you have a Republican household, you learn that there’s actually so much more that we agree upon than we disagree upon if we focus on values and beliefs,” Long says. “Too often we focus on policy and people get into their corners. I reach across the political aisle every time I ask my husband to pass the salt.”
A staunch conservative, Herrera Beutler is to the right of Long on most every issue. She opposes abortion, same-sex marriage rights and background checks for firearm purchases. Since she was elected to Congress, she has avoted multiple times to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“I do believe that the ACA has harmed more people than it has helped,” Herrera Beutler says. “We have to replace this current system.”
To hear Herrera Beutler tell it, her views are much more in line with the residents of the 3rd District than Long’s — an argument bolstered by the fact that she trounced her last three Democratic opponents, earning reelection with 60 percent or more of the vote each time.
This year, however, her argument against Long echoes one being made nationally by the president: that her Democratic opponent is a wild-eyed liberal following a playbook written by socialist Bernie Sanders.
“She believes in the Medicare for All option is where we need to go,” Herrera Beutler says of Long. “She absolutely supports it. I will not support that. It would jeopardize Medicare and it also costs $32 trillion, which is almost double what we’re paying right now. That’s almost double our annual budget.”
But while Long has earned the endorsement of progressives like Elizabeth Warren, she has never endorsed Medicare for All.
“It appears my opponent is running against a stereotypical liberal Democrat in her mind, and not Carolyn Long. She’s trying to paint a picture of me without knowing me or my positions,” Long says. “I think eventually we’re going to get to some form of universal coverage, but I don’t believe leaping into Medicare for All is either politically possible or the best idea, given the size of our economy that’s made up by the health care industry.”
Introducing herself to neighbors in cul-de-sacs of the North Garrison neighborhood, just blocks from her own home, Long asks each resident what issues are on his or her mind. The answers range from the need to better fund public education and crumbling infrastructure to the dismay at Trump’s bullying style of governing. It’s those answers that have many Democrats here believing that the 3rd District is poised to flip.
While there’s little polling to gauge how the race is trending, both candidates have pointed to the results of the August primary in which Herrara Beutler, facing six challengers, received 42 percent of the vote to Long’s 35 percent. When the total votes for all candidates were combined, however, the Republicans accounted for 51 percent while the Democrats received 49 percent. Last week, one of the Republican also-rans — retired electrician Michael Cortney — endorsed Long.
“If I could get 10 percent of the Republicans to jump onboard, that would give me a very comfortable margin,” Long says.
But as the two women head into a much-anticipated candidate forum Tuesday night, Long isn’t taking it for granted that anti-Trump sentiment will be enough to get her elected to Congress. Asked if she believes the blue wave is building, she hedges.
“The political scientist in me would say, ‘absolutely,’” she says. “But the person who’s sort of a conservative would say, ‘you don’t know what’s going to happen between now and November.’”
As to whether her husband will be part of it, she laughs.
“I’m still working on it,” Long says. “I have his overwhelming support, and I’m almost positive he’s going to vote for me.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “roughly half of the donations to Herrera Beutler’s campaign have come from super-PACs.” She has received approximately one third of her total donations to date from Political Action Committees.
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