Trump-backed candidate in Wash. House race appears to stall

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The insurgent candidate backed by former President Donald Trump appears to be stalling in a crowded field of Republicans challenging the GOP incumbent for a U.S. House seat in conservative central Washington state.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a four-term congressman, has drawn primary challengers thanks in part to being among the few in his party who voted to impeach President Donald Trump. Perhaps the best known outside candidate in Washington's 4th Congressional District's intraparty feud is Loren Culp, who's running against his own Republican Party as much as he is against Newhouse.

Culp, a former small town police chief who lost the 2020 governor's race to Democrat Jay Inslee but refused to concede, won Trump's endorsement in February, but has lagged other candidates in reported fundraising figures.

Trump’s influence among GOP voters is being tested in midterm elections across the country this year as he looks to flex his power and punish his enemies ahead of a possible 2024 presidential campaign. Trump has vowed to take down the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him over the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and four have already announced they won’t be seeking re-election. So far, Trump has found mixed success in his endorsement record, but it's still early in the primary season.

In addition to Culp, four other GOP candidates are running against Newhouse in the Aug. 2 primary. Because of Washington’s top-two system, two Republicans could end up on the fall ballot. The top two primary vote-getters advance, regardless of party.

Todd Schaefer, a political scientist at Central Washington University, said he has been surprised by how little money Culp has raised, given his high-profile run for governor two years ago.

“On paper he should have good name recognition,” Schaefer said. “You would think he’d get a lot of grassroots support.”

Culp was invited to visit with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in late February. Trump's endorsement of Culp read in part: “Loren Culp is running against RINO Congressman Dan Newhouse ... Loren will always defend your personal liberty, our under-siege Second Amendment, election integrity and law enforcement."

The other GOP challengers in the race are Jerrod Sessler, a Navy veteran and former NASCAR driver who has raised the most money; Corey Gibson; state Rep. Bradley Klippert, R-Kennewick; and Benanacio Garcia III.

As of the March 31 filing deadline, Culp had raised just $191,000 and had just $23,000 in cash on hand. Sessler had raised $444,000 and had $146,000 in the bank. Democrat Doug White had raised $230,000 and also had $146,000 in the bank. Gibson, Klippert and Garcia had raised little money.

Culp’s campaign has declined to return telephone calls from reporters but has made statements on Facebook. He lashed out recently at Republican Party officials who do not share his conservative views.

“The party can come and go ... the Constitution is first and foremost,” Culp said. “God, family, country. That’s what’s important.”

Culp served as a police officer and then police chief of the small town of Republic for a decade. His job was eliminated because of budget cuts shortly after the 2020 election. He has since moved to Moses Lake.

Schaefer isn't surprised so many Republicans decided to challenge Newhouse.

“The vote to impeach Trump put a target on him,” Schaefer said, noting that Newhouse otherwise seems a good fit for the district. The 4th runs from the Canadian border to the Columbia River through the agricultural heartland of the state east of the Cascade Range. The district is home to apple and cherry orchards, vineyards and wineries and a bounty of other farm crops and its biggest population centers are the Tri-Cities and Yakima.

Newhouse, who won 66% of the vote in 2020, so far has run a low-key campaign campaign, although he has veered to the right in an effort to fend off the challengers.

Newhouse, first elected in 2014, has raised $1.2 million and had $928,000 in the bank as of March 31.

“Dan is going to win because voters see that he’s a real conservative who works hard and gets results for the people he serves,” Newhouse campaign manager Derek Flint wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

The Washington State Republican Party will not endorse a candidate prior to the primary, chair Caleb Heimlich said.

The party last year decided it was “disappointed” with Newhouse and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington's 3rd District for voting to impeach Trump. The party said it would treat the incumbents and any GOP challengers as equals this year.

“We want to make sure we hold the seat,” Heimlich said. “It’s up to the voters of the 4th Congressional District who they want to represent them.”

Heimlich predicted that two Republicans will likely emerge from the primary to the general election in what is considered the state’s most conservative district.

But Schaefer said with so many Republicans in the primary, it is possible that White, the lone Democrat in the race, could finish in the top two and advance to the November general election.

“But whoever gets the Republican nomination will have the advantage,” in the general election, Schaefer said.

The endorsement of Culp continued Trump’s pattern of seeking to oust politicians who have refused to echo his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Trump has also endorsed Joe Kent, a challenger to Herrera Beutler.

Like Trump, Culp has lobbed false claims of widespread voter fraud.

He refused to concede the 2020 gubernatorial race after losing to Inslee by 545,000 votes. Culp also filed a lawsuit over the results but quickly withdrew it after his attorney was threatened with sanctions for making meritless claims in a court of law.