Herrera Beutler’s loss underscores risk to GOP of crossing Trump

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Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (Wash.) loss in the Republican primary in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District is the latest victory for former President Trump, who has proved in recent months that his hold on the party remains firm.

Her loss comes exactly a week after Rep. Peter Meijer (R) also lost his primary to a Trump-backed challenger in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District.

But Herrera Beutler was one of the prominent faces of the movement in the House to impeach Trump, making her loss on Tuesday that much sweeter of a victory for the former president.

“This is the trend we’ve seen with the Republicans who voted for impeachment,” said Jennifer Lim, the executive director of Republican Women for Progress, a group that has been critical of the Republican Party’s evolution under the former president.

Herrera Beutler appeared to be leading last week after the state’s primary night. But by the time Tuesday evening came along, her main opponent Joe Kent was ahead of the incumbent congresswoman by 928 votes out of the 200,000 votes that were cast, according to the Seattle Times.

Kent’s win also appears to have put Washington’s 3rd District on less solid ground for Republicans. After Herrera Beutler’s loss on Tuesday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report moved the district from “solid Republican” to “lean Republican.”

The congresswoman’s campaign, along with her allies, outspent Kent during the race. She was backed by various Republican groups including Winning for Women, Maggie’s List and other super PACs aligned with the Republican Party establishment.

Still, strategists argue that Kent was particularly well-funded for a first-term primary challenger.

“Republicans always viewed it as a very tough hill to climb for [Herrara Beutler] after the impeachment vote and also Kent being a strong challenger, stronger than a lot of these primary challengers to impeachers,” said one national Republican strategist. “He raised a lot of money. He had money to go on TV. He had a fully-fledged campaign apparatus behind him.

While Herrera Beutler had raised a total of $3.5 million as of June 30 and had $1 million cash on hand, Kent was not far behind, with a total of $2.3 million raised and $353,000 cash on hand during the same period.

Additionally, Kent has become a familiar face in the conservative mediasphere, regularly appearing on Fox News.

“It had to be like the equivalent of millions of dollars worth of advertising because the base does in fact watch Fox News at a pretty reliable rate,” said Alex Hayes, a Washington State-based GOP consultant.

Washington State politicos also say Herrera Beutler has been a target of the far right for years before Trump’s foray into politics.

“Herrera Beutler has always been opposed by the far right in Washington State, a far right that predates President Trump by about a decade,” Hayes said. “She’s essentially been under constant harassment from the Clark County Republican Party.”

In January 2015, the Clark County Republican Party floated the idea of censuring Herrera Beutler, which led to the Washington State Republican Party backing the congresswoman.

Kent has also embraced Trump’s platform, including questioning the 2020 presidential election results.

“Everything Kent was speaking to really appeals to that far right,” Lim said. “All of those sorts of things just really excite the far right and they show up for primaries.”

But Republicans say the final nail in the coffin for Herrera Beutler was her impeachment vote against Trump.

“It was all the impeachment vote,” the national Republican strategist said. “There was no other factor at play. She wouldn’t have had a primary if it weren’t for that vote, and even if she did get a primary without the impeachment vote, she would have been fine.”

“The impeachment vote has proven to be the single most damaging vote that a member could take from a primary perspective,” the strategist added. “If there’s enough money behind it, it’s basically a kill shot in a primary.”

In June, Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.), who also voted to impeach Trump, was defeated by Trump-backed state Rep. Russell Fry in the state’s 7th Congressional District Republican primary. And last week, Meijer was defeated by Trump-backed primary challenger John Gibbs in Michigan. However, Republicans argue that Meijer was ultimately defeated by Democratic spending that boosted Gibbs in the race.

But Herrera Beutler’s fellow Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), who also voted to impeach Trump, survived his primary challenge against Trump-endorsed challenger Loren Culp.

Hayes said that a lot of why Newhouse won and Herrera Beutler lost came down to how their primary opponents spent their campaign funds.

“In Newhouse’s case, the Trump-endorsed candidate there essentially had his entire campaign budget go to the consultants,” Hayes said.

“In Kent’s case, that did not happen,” he continued. “They limited their overhead spending.”

“That’s one of the chief predictors for success is can you prevent your consultant from stealing your whole budget,” he said.

Herrera Beutler’s defeat comes one week before Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of the most vocal Republican critics of the former president, faces Trump-backed primary challenger Harriet Hageman.

While Cheney is considered a fixture in GOP politics and has an extremely well-funded campaign, her path to victory is extremely narrow.

A Casper Star-Tribune poll released last week shows Hageman leading Cheney 52 percent to 30 percent among 1,100 registered Wyoming voters likely to participate in the primary.

“All the signs aren’t looking good,” Lim said. “I think a lot of people are expecting [Cheney] to fall victim to what happened to Herrera Beutler, unfortunately.”

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