Democrat facing Trump-backed Joe Kent: ‘I’m tired of being told I have to hate my neighbour to be a patriot’

Interview: Marie Gluesenkamp Perez tells Andrew Buncombe that her opponent Joe Kent is too extreme for crucial seat

Monday 24 October 2022 22:20 BST
Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez claims she will beat hardline Republican Joe Kent
Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez claims she will beat hardline Republican Joe Kent (Andrew Buncombe)

Small business owner Marie Gluesenkamp Perez believes she can be the first Democrat to win a keenly watched congressional race in Washington state for more than 15 years – and claims her Trump-backed opponent is actually helping her.

The last time Democrats won Washington’s third congressional district was in 2008. In 2010 it was bagged by Republican Jaime Herrera-Beutler, who was re-elected five times.

But Herrera-Beutler, by today’s standards a moderate Republican, was one of 10 GOP members of the House who voted for Donald Trump’s impeachment. Trump vowed revenge and backed challengers to all those who who did not drop out.

This summer, Perez advanced from the primary to the November general election with Joe Kent, the Trump-backed former special forces soldier, who narrowly bettered Herrera-Beutler.

The pair have set out positions at stark odds, Kent laying out a hardline set of positions on immigration, energy independence and opposition to abortion.

Perez has spoken out in defence of women’s rights, investing in local infrastructure and better paying jobs.

Kent has called Perez a closet socialist and claimed without proof she is a supporter of Antifa.

She has labelled him a conspiracy theorist, more interested in prosecuting Antony Fauci than the everyday issues of those who live in the third.

The rivals for the seat have so far held two debates.

At the most recent, Perez told voters:  “I’m running for Congress to be an independent voice for Southwest Washington. I’m not running to be a cheerleader for any political party. And I’m not running to divide our country. I’m running to fix what’s actually broken in our economy.”

Kent said: “I will go to Washington DC to be check on Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and one party rule.”

While there have been no public polls released since the primaries, the Cook Political Report moved the seat from “Solid Republican” to “Lean Republican”, after Kent became the GOP candidate. The political website Five Thirty Eight says Kent has a 97 per cent chance of beating Perez.

The 34-year-old, who has a young child, spoke to The Independent in Vancouver, Washington, the largest city in the district.

Marie Perez wants volunteers to knock on as many doors of 800,000 voters in district as possible (Andrew Buncombe)

Q: There’s a month to go. How’s the campaign going?

A: We’re running on jet fuel …. Everything is just turned up to 90 right now.

Fundraising has been robust, media interest has been strong, volunteers have been pouring in. And I keep hearing, like at the farmers market, I keep hearing from people ‘I never do this. I never get involved in politics. And this race is too important to sit out’. So I feel there’s this whole new team that’s coming together to stand up to political extremism in our district. And I just feel really honoured to get to help lead that charge..

Q: I’ve not seen any public polls. I assume you’ve done some?

A: They’re a small fortune to run. But the polling we have [conducted by Expedition Strategies] shows me starting off with a two point lead over Joe Kent. And when we can communicate about who I am, and what he believes, we can get all the way up to a 10 point lead over this guy.

Q: To clarify, you’re saying you are 50 and he is 48 in your private polling. Where does the 10 points come from?

A: They call everyone and they’re like ‘Who are you gonna vote for?’ And two points more say they’re gonna vote for me. Then they say ‘if you knew she’s a small business owner, she works in the trades, she’s a rural Democrat, who believes in rebuilding our economy, and you knew that Joe Kent says he wants to purge Republicans...’ So they give them the information, then they see how their opinion changes once they’re informed. That gets us up to the 10 points. [The poll also show Kent starts off with a - 70-30 name recognition advantage.]

Q: So it could be 10 points if you got your message out?

A: If we have the money to communicate, we can. And that’s what it comes down to – how many commercials can we put out, how many mailers can we put out, how many doors can we knock on? This race will be won or lost on how well we can communicate.

Polls suggest Joe Kent is starting with much higher name recognition than the Democrat (Andrew Buncombe)

Q: What’s the most effective way of getting your message out there – is it TV advertising, knocking on doors, is it town hall events, is it debates?

A: In terms of persuading and getting out the vote, door knocking is really effective. But you know, there’s 800,000 voters so you’re just not going to hit all the doors. You have to have television and the difficult thing is that right now because of the governor’s races in Oregon, this is the second-most expensive media in the entire US.

Q: How is fundraising going? I understand that a major donor to Jaime Herrera Butler is now backing you?

A: David Nierenberg has been amazing. He has been a real champion for our our campaign. It has been robust, it has been strong.

Q: But you’ve taken no corporate money?

A: No corporate money. No corporate PAC checks. Because I think it’s important that we have a clear chain of responsibility to our constituents. Of course, nobody thinks that they are compromised by taking donations, but data says otherwise.

Q: Why have you been so keen to stress that Congress needs more diversity, and that diversity means different things?

A: I think rural America is getting left behind and ignored. Like in my county, Skamania County, 80 per cent of employed people work outside of the county. It is becoming a hollowed out economy. We’ve got to have people that champion jobs and independent communities, [that are] self sustaining and vibrant, not a bunch of tourist hubs.

Q: Is that what Donald Trump was able to tap into?

A: Sure, yeah. It was not was not entirely irrational for them, because nobody else did it. Everybody else was saying, “Oh, like, it’s going to suck for you guys, but it’s necessary for the better the country”. You know - bulls***.

Q: A lot of the issues you’ve stressed are kitchen table issues – health care, schools, access to jobs. Why have you been so focused on these every day issues.?

A: That’s the life I’m living. I’m a small business owner that fixes older cars. You see your community struggle. You see people picking up multiple jobs, talking about where they’re going to move for cheaper rent. And so that’s the world that I live in. And and so those are the issues that I am aware of.

Joe Kent to call for impeachment of ‘unfit’ Joe Biden

Q: You’ve avoided the culture wars – why is that?

A: Because it not measurably improving most Americans lives. So many of those wedge issues are machine tooled weapons to divide our communities.

I am so tired of being told that I have to hate my neighbour to be a patriot.

And that I need to look at somebody’s bumper sticker before I pull over to help them. That’s lonely. That is a lonely way to live. And it’s exhausting.”

Q: If you’re elected what would the priorities for your first 100 days?

A: A couple things fall into broad categories. There’s shoring up our democracy, and getting our republic back on track, and that includes voting rights, civil rights, women’s right to health care. [Also] we have got to get our economy back on track. That means supporting small businesses. That means investing in career and trades programmes. We have hollowed out our jobs. Many of our best trades programmes, when I was in high school, got turned into computer programming schools.

Q: With inflation high and Joe Biden’s approval rating pretty low, is the president a drag on your campaign?

A: Maybe if I was trying to marry the guy, but I’m not here to defend any political party. I’m here to pursue the interest of the Third Congressional District in Washington state.

Q: How would you rate the job the president has done in the last two years?

A: Incomplete. I think the jury’s still out. But it has been really tumultuous two years – Russia invading a sovereign democratic nation, a global pandemic, a dire economic situation. The world is an increasingly chaotic place.

Q: If Mr Biden offered to come and campaign with you what would you say?

A: I think it’s important that we stay focused on the here and now. I want to be an independent voice for the district I don’t want to be beholden to any political party.

Democrats last won this seat in 2008 (Andrew Buncombe)

Q: That sounds like a “no”?!

A: I really value my independence.

Q: Several Democratic candidates, including Beto O’Rourke, claim to have seen a surge in support since the scrapping of Roe? Has that been true for your campaign?

A: Absolutely. I mean, there was a sea change. I think so many of us had had question whether or not women and Democrats and independents and moderate Republicans would sit on the couch in this race in the midterms where they would show up and vote. And it’s clear that a lot of women are really on fire. And working to protect our rights.”

Q: Your opponent has accused you of supporting Antifa, claiming your business offered to repair leaf blowers – that were reportedly used during the racial justice protests to clear tear gas. What do you say to that?

A: I totally forgot about this, but in 2020, an employee of mine made an Instagram post offering to fix leaf blowers. And Joe Kent is now running around saying that our business is an arsenal of Antifa. I went back and looked at our very careful records. I don’t have a leaf blower list once in my system.

My dad’s had a family business in Mexico, where he’s originally from, that was essentially seized by a socialist authoritarian government. So it’s actually pretty offensive to me to say that I am some kind of supporter of a socialist authoritarian violent organisation.

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