Can These Women Flip Red Districts in the Pacific Northwest?

Carolyn Long knows how to work a parade. Start from the back, move towards the front. Make eye contact, shake hands, and ask each person for their vote. For a Democrat trying to unseat a three-term Republican incumbent in a congressional district in the West, parades are very important.

There’s one parade in particular that Long, a political science professor, likes to talk about on the campaign trail: The Loggers Jubilee in Morton, a timber town in southwest Washington state where Donald Trump won 66 percent of the vote. In August, Long was there, shaking hands and keeping an eye out for her opponent. It began to rain—not a sprinkle, Long emphasizes, but a downpour. “I looked like a drowned rat,” she recalled recently. It was then that she saw Jamie Hererra Beutler, the incumbent, waving from atop a horse and looking remarkably dry. Long was furious. “We’ve lost the parade,” she thought. “We’ve lost the election.”

A few months later, Long uses the anecdote to draw what she describes as a defining contrast between herself and her opponent: while Beutler is “up her high horse,” Long is down with the rest of the people, hustling for votes. Since announcing what many considered a long-shot bid to flip Washington’s Third congressional district last year, Long has held 45 town halls throughout the district, which stretches across southern Washington from the Pacific coast up the Columbia River gorge to the midline of the state. Attendance ranged from just over a dozen in the tiny town of Lyle to more than 200 in the city of Vancouver. Beutler, Long often points out, hasn’t held a town hall in the district since January of 2017, preferring instead to hold telephone meetings, and she declined to debate. Long is betting that her aggressive outreach to voters, plus a national upwelling of grassroots Democratic activism, can carry her to victory.

The Third is one of three Republican-held districts in Washington state that Democrats are hoping to flip on Tuesday in their bid to retake the House. All three of the Democratic candidates are women. In Washington’s Eighth District, which encompasses the eastern suburbs of Seattle and rural communities across the Cascade mountains, pediatrician Kim Schreier is running against Republican former state senator Dino Rossi for an open seat in what has become one of the most expensive congressional races in the country. In the Fifth District, which covers the sparsely-populated eastern part of the state, former state senator and university chancellor Lisa Brown is challenging House Republican conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Long, who comes across as intensely focused and has a wry sense of humor, is running as a moderate consensus-builder on a battleground that until this summer was considered safe Republican territory. Beutler rode the Tea Party wave to victory over a long-time Democratic congressman in 2010 and has easily trounced challengers from the left since then. Redrawn in 2012 to exclude the blue city of Olympia, the district itself has become more conservative; Donald Trump won there by more than seven points. But after Long posted an unexpectedly strong showing in August’s jungle primary, the district looked suddenly competitive. Since then Long has built a significant war chest with support from both small donors and national groups like Emily’s List and MoveOn. She’s been endorsed by a number of labor unions and Barack Obama, as well as some influential former Beutler supporters, including the editorial board of The Columbian in Vancouver.

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