Trump-backed challenger Joe Kent surpasses US Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, leaving her on edge of primary defeat

US Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler has fallen to third place behind Donald Trump-endorsed challenger Joe Kent, leaving the six-term incumbent on the edge of defeat.

With new votes tallied in Clark, Thurston and Cowlitz counties Monday, Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, Kent was trailing by 960 votes. She had been ahead by 257 votes Friday.

Facing backlash over her vote to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 US Capitol assault, Herrera Beutler had been in second place since election night in the 3rd District race in Southwest Washington.

But her support eroded in later ballot counts, which favored Kent. That trend continued Monday as a new batch of Clark County ballots put Kent ahead of her for the first time.

Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez remained in first place with about 31% of the overall vote, leaving her headed for a November matchup against either Kent or Herrera Beutler. Kent was at 22.8% and Herrera Beutler at 22.3% as of Monday evening.

Thousands of votes remain to be counted in the all-mail ballot election, with Clark County estimating 10,000 left in the district’s largest population center. Those votes are scheduled to be counted Tuesday.

The race for the second spot on the November ballot could be headed for a mandatory recount.

A machine recount is triggered if the gap between the No. 2 and No. 3 candidates is less than half of 1% and less than 2,000 votes. A hand recount would take place if they’re closer than a quarter of 1% and 150 votes.

While some national election experts called the race for Kent on Monday, Herrera Beutler did not immediately concede.

“We’re going to watch the vote count for one more day before making any declarative statements,” Craig Wheeler, a spokesperson for the campaign, said in an email.

Kent’s campaign manager, Ozzie Gonzalez, said in a text message Kent would have no comment until the election is certified. County canvassing boards are set to certify their results Aug. 16, and the secretary of state must certify statewide results by Aug. 19.

On Twitter, Kent joined other Republicans in attacking the FBI’s search for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday. Agents were reportedly investigating whether classified documents or other public records had been taken from the White House.

“We must bring the national security state to heel or we won’t have a country anymore. That has to be our top priority in 2023. We start with the FBI & DOJ,” Kent tweeted.

While the 3rd District leans Republican, national Democrats may take a fresh look at whether to invest in the general-election race to take a shot at Kent, who has aligned himself with far-right members of Congress including US Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Gluesenkamp Perez, who lives in rural Skamania County and co-owns a Portland auto-repair shop, said in an interview she’s ready to take on Kent, touting her ability to connect with working-class voters, and zeroing in on his connections with extremists and white nationalists.

“You don’t put a Proud Boy on your staff and don’t know. That’s a choice,” she said, referring to an Associated Press report that Kent’s campaign had paid a man identified as a member of the extremist group, whose leader and other members have been charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly helping coordinate the Jan. 6 attack .

Even as later-counted ballots trended his way, Kent and some of his allies were insinuating the delay in final results might be a result of fraud or a plot to defeat him.

Before taking the lead, Kent, who has echoed Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, appeared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast, where he is a regular guest.

On the podcast, Kent called the vote-counting “not a transparent process” and complained his own ballot had been challenged — a story that was widely shared as evidence of possible fraud by some conservative election-conspiracy websites and Kent supporters on social media.

Kent’s ballot-envelope signature had been flagged as a possible mismatch as part of the routine verification process — designed to prevent fraudulent votes. The issue was quickly cleared up as Kent filled out a new signature card, said Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey.

The vote counts in the county have taken somewhat longer this year because an unusually large number of voters held on to their ballots until the very end, Kimsey said.

About 92,000 ballots arrived in drop boxes or via mail on the day before the election, Election Day itself and the day after — compared with 49,000 on the same three days in the 2018 midterm primary election.

From the trend in the late votes, it was clear that a majority of the late-arriving ballots were from Kent supporters.

“Each of those ballots has to go through a signature verification process in a very conscientious, careful manner,” Kimsey said. “That’s what we are doing.”

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