VANCOUVER, Wash. — In less than a month, voters in Southwest Washington will pick a new representative in what is arguably one of the country's most high-profile congressional races.
Incumbent congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican, lost in the August primary.
Republican candidate Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed military veteran who promises an "America First" platform, topped his party's vote-getters, while Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez led all candidates with 31% of the vote.
The district hasn't elected a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives in more than a decade. Gluesenkamp Perez believes an appeal to moderates could change that.
"That has been the focus of this race for me the entire time, we’ve got to bring back the middle ground," she said.
Gluesenkamp Perez co-owns an auto repair shop in Portland with her husband, marketing herself as a working-class mom of a toddler who knows how to fix things.
"And I think that matters, that's what America looks like, and things will not get better in government unless we start electing people who have the shared experience of so many Americans," Gluesenkamp Perez said.
However, about two-thirds of primary election voters cast their ballots for a Republican in August, and the district voted for Donald Trump in the past two presidential elections.
Can she win the seat in a district that favors Republicans?
"This is a district that believes in moderation and that’s the opportunity here, that’s frankly what our country needs right now," she said.
KGW asked Gluesenkamp Perez in what ways would she follow and support the Democratic Party line, and in what ways would she stray from party standards?
"I am not here to be a party shill, I am here to be an independent voice for our district," Gluesenkamp Perez said. "We have gotten so far down to this polarized partisanship that we have failed to have conversations about what are the pragmatic steps to improve our lives."
In some ways, Gluesenkamp Perez does hold unique views for a Democratic candidate.
She’s a gun owner who lives in rural Skamania County. As a result, she opposes any assault weapons ban.
"I don't think it gets to the heart of the issue and I think the vast majority of gun owners are responsible, they go to the gun range, they believe in safe storage, we get a few unhinged young people, that doesn't mean we need to throw the baby out with the bath water," she said, adding that she would be open to raising the purchasing age from 18 to 21 for assault weapons.
Gluesenkamp Perez also calls for more police officers and higher police salaries, referencing 39 vacancies in the Clark County Sheriff's Office and criticizing a rise in property crime.
"It has eviscerated the emergency funds of tens of thousands of people in our district, and it is hurting our communities, our sense of security, and violent crime is up too," she said.
Meanwhile, she’s made abortion rights and reproductive rights a tenet of her campaign, in light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
"This is not about the minutiae of constitutional law, this is about the most intimate decisions a family will ever make," she said. "You know I had a miscarriage in 2020, the last thing I want is state troopers showing up on my porch the next morning to make me prove what really happened; this is not the America we believe in.”
Gluesenkamp Perez said inflation is the top issue affecting voters in Washington, but she stopped short of criticizing President Joe Biden or Democratic leadership for rising costs.
"The forces that have created this inflation have been coming down the road for decades; look at American manufacturing, look at our jobs numbers, we have been relying on other countries for cheap goods and offshoring our jobs. That’s a huge problem," Gluesenkamp Perez said.
At the same time, she didn't praise the handling of America's current inflationary pressure.
"I'm not here to defend any political party, I’m here to say as a small-business owner who works in manufacturing, we need to start listening to people like me and supporting the policies that are going to get us back on a strong economic footing," Gluesenkamp Perez.
That includes further tapping into America’s strategic oil reserves to lower gas prices in the short-term, Gluesenkamp Perez said, although she points to "green jobs" and investment in trade schools and apprenticeships as key for the economy and the environment in the future.
"Looking around at the rise of things like microplastics in our economy, the solution to that? It's paper and cardboard, and that's what we do right in this district," she said. "We’ve got to be supporting the paper and cardboard industry and replacing plastic packaging with sustainable products we grow here in Washington state."
Gluesenkamp Perez previously lost an election for Skamania County commissioner in 2016.
She said she will accept the results of her upcoming election and said criticism of mail-in voting and allegations of voter fraud are wholly unfounded.
"I think we should all be deeply disturbed when people try to make this about partisanship," she said. "Anyone who has done a deep dive on our elections knows that these are incredibly secure, fraud is vanishingly rare and the people running our election office are patriots and civil servants. This is not some YouTube conspiracy theory. Go down and talk to them, volunteer there.”
Gluesenkamp Perez hopes an appeal to middle-ground thinking will sway voters to her side, frequently criticizing partisanship as the reason for the country's problems.
"We've got to get back to a place where it's the majority of us driving the agenda, setting the goals for what's best for our district," she said. "It can't just be about what the loudest voices or the Twitter trolls want us to do. It has to be what is actually going to deliver results to make normal Americans lives better in our district."
Editor's Note: This report focuses on Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez, the Democratic candidate in the WA-03 race. A report on Joe Kent, the Republican candidate, aired last week on KGW. Read the article and watch the video below.