Army Special Forces veteran Joe Kent is starting to pull ahead of the pack of challengers seeking to oust Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in next year's midterms — at least in terms of fundraising.
Kent raised $366,000 in the second quarter of the year, according to the latest round of reports to the Federal Election Commission, filed this week. That was more than any other challenger to a U.S. House incumbent in Washington.
The new round of FEC reports serve as an early heat check for which congressional incumbents may face substantive reelection fights in the 2022 midterms, with Republicans looking to take back Congressional majorities while also feuding internally over loyalty to former President Donald Trump.
Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, are facing backlash among Republicans angry over their votes to impeach Trump for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But Newhouse's challengers are off to a comparatively weak start in fundraising.
Among Democratic incumbents, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish, have drawn GOP challengers whose early fundraising showed some glimmers of strength in the latest FEC reports.
State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said the usual midterm dynamics — in which the party in control of the White House loses seats in Congress — is reflected in Washington's budding midterm races.
"We are the party that is on offense, as you'd expect at this point in history," he said, pointing to a lack of notable Democratic challengers emerging so far against the Washington GOP's congressional incumbents.
Alex Bond, spokesperson for the state Democratic Party, said that could change as recruitment efforts continue, and noted Democratic incumbents remain financially dominant.
"These reports are showing how the Democratic base is still excited about the great work our leaders in Congress are doing," he said, pointing to accomplishments including the American Rescue Plan and expanded child tax credits.
The 3rd District
The most intense early midterm action is brewing in southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District, where local Republican organizations have excoriated Herrera Beutler and vowed to back her rivals.
Still, Herrera Beutler, up for a seventh term next year, saw a burst of bipartisan support after her impeachment vote, and remains well ahead in total money raised. She pulled in $463,000 in the second quarter, which covers March through June, leaving her with more than $1 million in the bank. Kent reported $512,000 in the bank (he has contributed and loaned more than $225,000 to his own campaign).
Kent boasted his own fundraising is built on donations from individuals, while roughly half of Herrera Beutler's money came from political action committees. "@HerreraBeutler is running on America Last PACs not grassroots donations," he said in a tweet Friday.
Parker Truax, a Herrera Beutler campaign spokesman, said in an email the congresswoman is focused on salmon protection, combating wildfires and supporting police. The latest fundraising report "demonstrates she'll have all the resources necessary to share that record with voters," he said.
Christian author and home schooling advocate Heidi St. John, another of Herrera Beutler's Republican challengers, raised $149,000 in the second quarter, leaving her with $222,000 in the bank.
St. John's campaign manager, Lisa D'Andrea, said that doesn't show her full strength, as St. John was traveling out of state for much of the month for speaking engagements and could not campaign locally.
"We're just starting, so everyone needs to watch out," D'Andrea said.
Kent and St. John have sought out Trump's endorsement and met with him in person. A nod by the former president, who has continued to make false claims that his 2020 loss was due to massive fraud, would likely supercharge fundraising for the candidate getting his blessing.
Kent already has lined up support from some prominent Trump supporters, including California billionaire Peter Thiel, who has donated the maximum allowable $5,800 to his campaign. He also has hired Matt Braynard, former data director for Trump's campaign, as a consultant.
A third GOP challenger to Herrera Beutler, former Selective Service System chief of staff Wadi Yakhour, raised $1,860 in the second quarter. He announced this week he would accept crypto currency donations, such as Bitcoin. Three Democratic candidates in the district have shown scant fundraising so far.
Heimlich said the state GOP for now isn't taking sides in the primary — a departure from past practice of supporting incumbents.
In the 4th District
In Central Washington's 4th District, Newhouse also faces a trio of Republican primary challengers criticizing his impeachment vote.
But none of them has shown much early fundraising mojo.
Loren Culp, the GOP candidate for governor last year, raised $23,000 in the second quarter, including $2,900 from Thiel. It was Culp's first report since declaring his candidacy on April 21.
Culp pointed out he also started off slow when he ran for governor, yet wound up beating several GOP rivals to make it through the primary. "I meet people in person, money can't buy eye contact," he said on Twitter.
Culp never conceded his gubernatorial loss by 545,000 votes to Gov. Jay Inslee and filed a lawsuit making baseless claims of widespread fraud. He dropped the lawsuit after a threat of legal sanctions by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
State Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, raised $1,650, and Prosser businessman Jarrod Sessler raised $2,100 for the 4th District race.
Newhouse raised $244,000 in the second quarter and reported $675,000 cash on hand.
Battle for U.S. Senate seat
In Washington's Senate race, Republicans are touting the fundraising haul by challenger and first time candidate Tiffany Smiley, a veteran's advocate who raised $834,000 from nearly 2,900 donors in the second quarter, with $695,000 cash on hand.
But Murray, seeking a sixth term next year, raised more than $2 million over that period from more 15,000 contributors, and reported a campaign cash stockpile of $5.3 million.
In the 8th District
In Washington's Eighth Congressional District, Schrier, the incumbent Democrat who flipped the historically Republican-held seat in 2018, raised $686,000 in the second quarter, leaving her with $2.7 million in the bank.
She has drawn two Republican challengers so far, including Jesse Jensen, a combat veteran and technology company manager, who ran against Schrier in 2020 and took 48% of the vote despite being vastly outspent. Jensen only recently announced his candidacy and has not filed any FEC fundraising reports.
A second Republican, Matt Larkin, reported raising $177,000 in the relatively brief time since he joined the race in mid-May. Larkin is an attorney and executive at his family's manufacturing company in Bothell. He ran unsuccessfully for attorney general last year.
It may be too early to read much in to those fundraising totals, but given the district's past, Bond, the spokesperson for the state Democratic Party, acknowledged "we expect the 8th to be a competitive and hard-fought race."