Washington’s Definitive Race

The Northwest Progressive Institute released another of their regular Washington statewide polls this time testing the 2024 Senate race featuring four-term incumbent Maria Cantwell (D), but the political contest that could either sustain or change a chamber majority lies in the southwestern part of the state.

Public Policy Polling conducted the survey for the NPI (3/7-8; 874 WA registered voters; live interview & text) and paired Sen. Cantwell with former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R), who is reportedly at least casually considering the Senate challenge. PPP finds Sen. Cantwell holding a comfortable 50-35% advantage.

In Washington’s 3rd Congressional District last November, freshman Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Skamania County) scored an upset victory after the veteran Republican incumbent Beutler failed to advance from the all-party jungle primary. In 2024, the WA-3 race will likely be one of the few determinative House races.

The upcoming 3rd District campaign looks to be the state’s premier political contest. Located in the far southwestern corner of the state bordering the Columbia River that separates Washington and Oregon, the district lies just across the river from the region’s largest and now troubled city, Portland. The district then moves north toward the capital city of Olympia through the Longview, Castle Rock, and Centralia communities.

Rep. Perez is one of just four Democrats who defied her district’s partisan lean in 2022. The FiveThirtyEight data organization rates the WA-3 seat R+11, and Dave’s Redistricting App calculates the partisan lean at 51.9R – 46.4D. Former President Donald Trump carried the district in 2020 with a 50.8 – 46.6% margin. In the ’22 jungle primary, though Ms. Perez finished first, 64.8% of the people voted for a Republican candidate. Of 2022’s closest 25 House races, WA-3 is the most Republican seat in the country that elected a Democrat.

Irrespective of the district’s voting history, the new Congresswoman claimed a 50.1 – 49.3% victory (a spread of 2,629 votes) over military veteran Joe Kent (R) who Mr. Trump supported in the jungle primary largely because Rep. Beutler had been one of the ten Republicans to vote for his second impeachment. While the Kent-Trump coalition upset Rep. Beutler, the base could not expand far enough to hold the seat in November.

The Democrats, seeing an opportunity, pumped money into the 3rd District race with outside expenditures to complement their candidate’s campaign that spent $3.8 million. The major campaign theme was emphasizing Ms. Perez’s small business background and her wanting to represent people “who have grease under their fingernails.” Ms. Perez and her husband own an auto repair shop.

Next year, WA-3 will be a top tier target, and a seat the GOP will need to return to their conference. Mr. Kent is running again, but a different campaign will have to be conducted, meaning one that casts him in a less extremist light, if he is to succeed.

While the 2022 cycle featured a plethora of competitive House campaigns, the 2024 political landscape is shaping up differently. We saw 63 open seats in the ’22 campaign, but so far in this cycle only six incumbents to date have said they will either resign or run for another office with no outright retirement announcements as yet. With winning candidates defying the absolute district partisan lean in only 13 instances, these obvious targets for both parties will become major battleground contests.

Looking ahead, with the North Carolina congressional lines likely to be redrawn to favor Republicans, thus slightly boosting their slim majority margin, the party will need the WA-3 seat to come home in order to help protect themselves from what will be sure massive Democratic political offensives in California and New York, two of the Dems’ strongest states but places where Republicans outperformed the redistricting map by four seats apiece.

We can expect another torrid battle for the House majority to unfold in 2024, and it’s already clear that southwestern Washington’s 3rd CD will be one of the most fought for districts. Chances are strong that its eventual result will prove a gateway to the next majority.

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