Just after 9 p.m. Tuesday, as Loren Culp was leaving his election night party at Rick's Eatery in Moses Lake, one of the restaurant's patrons wanted to make it clear not everyone in the Central Washington's 4th congressional district agrees with far-right candidates like Culp who have come to dominate the Republican Party.
"I think we need to put it in the hands of women and Democrats," said Moses Lake resident Scott Reed. "This extremism has gone on way too long and it has to end."
Reed, 45, said he voted for Republicans in some races, but when it came to the race to represent Washington's most conservative district in Congress, he voted for Democrat Doug White, who is set to face incumbent Rep. Dan Newhouse in November's general election. With 70% of ballots counted on Friday, Newhouse led with 26.4% of votes with White close behind at 25.4%, while Culp had 21%.
It's been 30 years since a Democrat won the 4th district, when now-Gov. Jay Inslee won a single term in 1992 before being ousted and decamping for greener political pastures west of the Cascades.
A Yakima native who returned home in 2020 after the marketing firm he ran in Hong Kong folded amid China's crackdown on the quasi-independent territory, White said he was motivated to enter the race when he saw echoes of that authoritarian government in former President Donald Trump's attempt to cling to power after losing the 2020 election. The turning point, White said in an April interview, was the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021.
"I just said, 'I've got to do something,' " White said. "Democracy is too fragile and this is my country. I've already watched one country fall. I'm not going to watch another."
Since the Capitol riot, the Republican Party has been divided over Trump's continued insistence he lost re-election only because of mass voter fraud, a claim his own attorney general called "stupid," "bogus," "crazy" and "complete nonsense." Newhouse was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January 2021 for his role in the riot, a move that angered right-wing voters in his district and prompted six Republicans to enter the race to challenge him.
Those candidates — Culp, former NASCAR driver Jerrod Sessler, GOP state Rep. Brad Klippert of Kennewick, marketing entrepreneur Corey Gibson of Selah, Army veteran Benancio "Benny" Garcia III of Sunnyside and engineer Jacek Kobiesa of Pasco — all decried Newhouse's impeachment vote and expressed support for Trump's claims.
That narrative could motivate voters like Reed, who implored his neighbors to reject "this radical notion that Trump lost the election because of fraudulent (expletive)."
"I'm a Moses Laker," Reed said. "I've been here 18 years, and I can tell you that the cult of Trumpism needs to stop and we need to take up and realize what that party has become. They should not be in charge of everything. We need to elect responsible people who accept results and are able to move on, not foment or incite riots."
White's chances of winning the district where Newhouse took two-thirds of votes in 2020 may be helped by that rift in the GOP, but not in the way he initially foresaw.
In the April interview, White said he expected Culp to finish ahead of Newhouse in the Aug. 2 primary, in which the top two vote-getters advance to the Nov. 8 general election.
Instead, Newhouse is on track to survive the primary thanks to the crowded field of Trump-aligned candidates who collectively took more than 48% of votes. After those Republicans spent more than a year attacking Newhouse — to the point where Okanogan County GOP chair Teagan Levine said they "forget there's a Democrat running" — they have so far refused to endorse Newhouse. That may raise the chances voters stay mad enough at Newhouse not to give him their votes, if not vote for White.
After sharing a Spokesman-Review story on Twitter in which he was quoted saying he didn't even consider Newhouse a Republican, Culp liked a tweet from a user who said GOP voters should decline to vote for Newhouse. Another supporter suggested Culp run a write-in campaign, which could spoil Newhouse's chances of re-election.
Newhouse will remain favored in November's election in the district where he has historically beaten Democrats handily, but after winning barely a quarter of votes in the primary, he will need right-wing voters to forgive his lack of fealty to Trump. Meanwhile, White said Thursday he thinks many of the district's independent voters are ready for change.
"I have a very strong platform," he said. "I'm going to continue an extremely aggressive ground game with events, voter outreach and various other things. ... Now, we're all going to redouble our focus on winning this."