VANCOUVER, Wash. — On Election Night, candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez said the preliminary vote totals in Washington's 3rd Congressional District "exceeded her expectations."
Since then, Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat, has managed to hold onto her lead over Republican Joe Kent, albeit by a steadily decreasing margin.
Gluesenkamp Perez leads Kent by less than 3,000 votes as of Friday night, although there are only a few thousand votes left to be counted. The Associated Press, NBC News and The Oregonian have all projected Gluesenkamp Perez to be the race winner, based on the amount of remaining votes.
While her lead is slight, it's somewhat of a shock to many political analysts that Gluesenkamp Perez holds a lead at all.
Washington's 3rd Congressional District has favored Republican candidates for the past decade, and most non-partisan watchers like the Cook Political Report projected the district to lean towards Kent.
It invites the question: How did Gluesenkamp Perez pull this off? Plus, why are national outlets pointing to WA-03 as an example of both how the recent midterms played out, and what's to come?
For one answer, you could ask Marvin Ledtje. He lives in Ridgefield, Washington.
"I think of myself as a moderate, I’m a registered Republican but I don’t vote a straight ticket," Ledtje said. "I look at the candidates and decide which way I vote."
This November, Ledtje said he had just one rule for his ballot.
"Anybody that was supported by Donald Trump, I couldn't vote for. Period," he said. "It didn't matter who the candidate was or what he had to say, if Trump supported him, there was no way I could vote for him."
Kent campaigned on Trump's endorsement throughout the election cycle. His "America First" platform often aligned with Trump's attitudes towards immigration, January 6 and the election process. Kent's political philosophies represent the more extreme ideals of the Republican Party.
Alternatively, Gluesenkamp Perez repeatedly marketed herself as a more moderate choice for voters. She advocated for gun rights, and said Democrats need to better serve rural Americans.
"This is a district that believes in moderation and that’s the opportunity here, that’s frankly what our country needs right now," Gluesenkamp Perez told KGW in an interview before the election.
The two candidates were vying to replace incumbent Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, who's seen as a more moderate member of the GOP after voting to impeach Trump following the 2021 Capitol riots.
So Ledtje, when researching the candidates, quickly knew who he would vote for to represent him in Congress.
"Donald Trump liked Joe Kent — therefore, he is crossed off my list," Ledtje said. "If he hadn’t won the primary, I could’ve voted for Jaime Herrera Beutler and probably would have ... but no, nobody who is supported by Trump gets my vote."
Ledtje is just one voter in a district of more than 317,000 who voted in the November 2022 election. However, the election results suggest that Ledtje wasn't alone.
About two-thirds of all WA-03 voters live in Clark County. As it stands, Gluesenkamp Perez won 55.5% of the vote in Clark County, an 11-point margin over Kent.
In the race for U.S. Senate, Democratic candidate Patty Murray received about 51% of Clark County's vote.
The comparison signals that about 4 to 5% of all voters, likely Republican-leaning voters, decided to vote for Republican Tiffany Smiley for Senate, but voted Gluesenkamp Perez for U.S. House of Representatives.
Without that significant group of voters choosing a split ticket, Gluesenkamp Perez would not be the projected winner.
"It’s a microcosm of what we saw across the country in that both sides were really animated to turn out and in the right circumstances they’re willing to cross the aisle to vote for another party," said Chris Stout, an associate professor of political science at Oregon State University.
Stout paid close attention to the recent congressional races.
"Joe Kent was seen as being maybe too extreme, so Gluesenkamp Perez was able to bring in some moderate Republicans to her side, and that would make a big difference in that district," he said.
Stout said results across the country show that more voters than usual honed in on ideology, rather than political party.
He says WA-03 is a clear example of voters wanting a moderate choice, not a partisan one, and that could represent something greater in political preference moving forward.
"It seems like Americans are starting to react and say, 'You know, we don’t want our Democrats too far to the left or Republicans too far to the right, we want someone who is closer to the center,'" Stout said. "So, I think we’ll see kind of a sharp change in the types of candidates put forth, which then is good for polarization and the ability for Congress to get things done, because there’s a greater willingness to compromise."
Ledtje said this shift to the middle feels needed, and he believes other voters feel the same
"I think that’s realistic; I think the Trump effect is felt," he said.