Riding a wave of endorsements by conservative figures — most notably former President Donald Trump — District 3 congressional candidate Joe Kent rallied Monday with Matt Gaetz, a Florida House Republican embroiled in controversy.
At the Clark County Fairgrounds, Gaetz cast himself and Kent in the same battle “for the soul of the Republican Party” — the “western front” of which he said was in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
Kent is a retired U.S. Special Forces officer who announced his candidacy after incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler voted to impeach former president Trump. He has since distinguished himself as the furthest-right candidate in the running against Herrera Beutler, who has often highlighted her bipartisan work.
“A few weeks ago, Jaime brought a jobs fair to the same venue. Today, her opponent is bringing an alleged sex trafficker,” a Herrera Beutler spokesman told The Chronicle. “Southwest Washington voters will have a pretty clear choice in next year’s election.”
Gaetz has been entangled in scandal this year, with the Department of Justice launching an investigation into whether the now 39-year-old had sex with a minor or broke sex trafficking laws. A former running mate’s guilty plea to sex trafficking charges could spell bad news for Gaetz, along with a House Ethics Committee investigation looking into his alleged sexual misconduct and other transgressions. Gaetz has denied the allegations.
In April, Kent was slated to speak at a rally headlined by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, another controversial figure who was stripped of committee assignments this year over her peddling of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, involvement with Qanon and claims that school shootings were staged.
Now, the first-time candidate enjoys endorsements from Gaetz, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, former Washington gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp and, most significantly, former president Trump.
That endorsement was expected to change the race to oust Herrera Beutler, with fellow candidates Wadi Yakhour and Heidi St. John having pledged to step aside for whoever garnered Trump’s support.
But after news that the twice-impeached president threw his support behind Kent, Yakhour was alone in his choice to end his candidacy.
“As a man of my word and as a man of integrity, I don't want to become a hindrance to the cause,” he said in a Facebook video. Yakhour stopped short of endorsing Kent, though, saying “I encourage everybody who votes to do their own research,” and “nobody cares who I endorse.”
In an email to The Chronicle, he added that “the probability of me winning has become too low.”
St. John took a different approach, digging into Kent as a “Johnny-come-latey” — a reference to his time spent in Oregon — claiming, if elected, he would “return to his beltway friends and abandoned his constituents, just like Jaime Herrera Beutler.”
In announcing she would continue her campaign, the homeschooling mom and author also downplayed the Trump endorsement.
“Unfortunately, Mar-a-Lago is about as far away from Washington’s 3rd Congressional as you can get — nearly 2,700 miles,” she said in a statement. “The former president neither knows nor understands the issues that are important to 3rd district voters. I do.”
It’s a major shift from her previous heralding of Trump, recently calling him “my favorite sitting president ever in the history of the world.” And it could be risky, given the firm pro-Trump sentiment ingrained in the conservative races unfolding in the 3rd.
That allegiance for Trump was on full display Monday, with Gaetz’ proclamation that Trump won the 2020 election greeted with rambunctious applause from the crowd.
Kent once again took his convictions in unproven election fraud claims to the next level, promising supporters he will adjudicate the election through Congress. If that doesn’t force out President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, he said, the duo will be impeached.
The public event only lasted about 35 minutes and hit on major talking points that have emerged from Herrera Beutler’s challengers: critical race theory, vaccine passports and Trump, for example.
Immigration was also discussed at length during the event. Gaetz and Kent both critiqued immigration, with Kent saying the “big beautiful wall” needs to be finished. But while Gaetz kept his commentary to illegal border crossings, Kent — who has previously promised to halt legal and illegal immigration — went further.
He pointed a finger at documented immigrants from India and Pakistan, claiming they undercut jobs in the tech sector, adding that the Biden administration wants to welcome in large numbers of refugees from the now Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in order to turn them into Democratic voters.
By contrast, the state Legislature’s Republican leaders have called for Afghan refugees to be “welcomed here with open arms in Washington state,” something Rep. J.T. Wilcox and Sen. John Braun say would show veterans “that their service was not in vain.”
The duo noted that under former Republican governor Dan Evans, Washington also was quick to welcome refugees from Saigon, “providing them with the precious gift of freedom.”
Other priorities Kent outlined Monday include work to strengthen “the American family,” a priority he has used in conjunction with anti-transgender rhetoric. To protect “the one thing the left doesn’t have control of,” Kent said he supports a school choice or school voucher program and a $10,000 per child tax deduction to allow families to survive on one income and rely less on the public school system.
That, paired with onshoring manufacturing, would give Americans “the ability to leave high school, enter a well-paying job that gives you the ability to support a family.”