VANCOUVER, Wash. — Democratic challenger Marie Gluesenkamp Perez retained her first place lead with 31% in the race for Washington's 3rd Congressional District following a fresh round of ballots added to the tally Thursday afternoon. The Associated Press called her as the race's first winner shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Incumbent Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler remained in second place with 23.3%. If that rank continues to hold, she will become the race's second winner and advance to a runoff against Gluesenkamp Perez in the November general election.
However, Herrera Beutler also faced two prominent challengers running to her right in the primary. Republicans Joe Kent and Heidi St. John attacked her as insufficiently conservative and criticized her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Both Republican challengers gained ground in Thursday's update. As of 5:30 p.m., St. John had received 15.7% and Kent had received just under 22%, narrowing the gap between him and Herrera Beutler to about 1.3%, compared with about 4.4% after the first round of ballots were counted Tuesday.
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The Washington Secretary of State's office posted an initial vote tally shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday night and updated it several times until about 8:45 p.m. as initial counts came in from counties within the district.
The leading candidates traded places several times during the initial updates, but by 8:45 p.m. they had settled into the rank order of Gluesenkamp Perez in first, Herrera Beutler in second, Kent in third and St. John in fourth.
The 3rd District includes all of Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties plus a small part of Thurston County. All except Wahkiakum County updated their tallies on Wednesday afternoon.
Excluding Thurston, the counties showed a combined total of 154,579 votes counted as of 5:45 p.m. Thursday evening and 50,837 votes still to be counted. About 89% of the remaining outstanding ballots were from Clark County.
Herrera Beutler has represented the Southwest Washington district since 2010, but the prominence of Kent and St. John in the current election raised the possibility that she could be knocked out of the race if one of them managed to grab a larger share of Republican votes in the primary.
The district's Republican vote did end up being heavily split, but so far Herrera Beutler appears to have come away with the largest share, which would secure her a second-place finish in the primary.
The district leans conservative overall, but Gluesenkamp Perez appears to have drawn more unified support from Democratic voters, which was enough to land her in first place due to the splintered Republican vote.