Campaign season kicked off in Camas this week, with a town hall hosted by Vancouver businessman and attorney David McDevitt, one of three Democratic candidates hoping to unseat incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the 3rd Congressional District of Washington.
The Tuesday evening event, held at Camas Public Library, represented a milestone for McDevitt, who tried to best Herrera Beutler in 2016, but came in third in the top-two primary.
“This is my 50th town hall,” McDevitt said after the nearly 90-minute community talk ended Tuesday and patrons filed out of the just-closing library. “I’m not counting events where people ask me to speak. I mean town halls we’ve organized.”
If his first campaign in 2016 was about getting his name out to the voters in the wide-flung 3rd Congressional District, which spans Southwest Washington and reaches into eight counties, including Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties, McDevitt’s second attempt to represent the nearly 655,000 people in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District is about actually heading out to the district’s far corners and meeting face-to-face with the public.
“Putting people first. That’s what I’m focused on,” McDevitt told the small crowd of about half a dozen who had come to the library Tuesday night to hear him talk about his plans to turn around health care via Medicare-for-all, push for sane gun reform, bring family-wage jobs to the region and get a seat at the table when it comes to transportation needs on both sides of the Columbia River.
For McDevitt, “putting people first” often means talking to folks from the 3rd District who might not agree with him. Last week, he spoke to around 14 people in Goldendale, Washington, and met with a few conservative Republicans, including a local rancher. McDevitt says he believes his calm demeanor helps put people at ease in these types of situations, and adds that having the ability to discuss hot-button issues with all constituents would be vital if he were elected.
“I come across as calm and collected, and I fight that way,” McDevitt told the people at the Camas Library Tuesday evening. “But, inside, there’s a tiger calling out to take care of people. You can’t get to an agreement on anything if you’re always combative.”
Several people in attendance Tuesday seemed to agree with many of McDevitt’s main campaign platforms — including the push to massively overhaul the country’s health care system and implement a Medicare-for-all structure that would take the pharmaceutical and medical industries’ profits out of the equation and provide affordable health care to every American; the need for family-wage jobs that don’t hurt the environment or contribute to climate change; an education system that allows every child to get a higher education, whether that means a four-year university or a technical type of trade school; a tax structure that benefits the middle, working and lower classes instead of the wealthiest; and gun reform that would ban military-grade weapons, offer buyback programs for those types of guns, require much stricter background checks and include some type of required training and insurance for all gun owners.
The gun reform talk got a response from several people in the audience, with one woman saying “Yes!” while others said, “That’s what we need” and “That would take care of most of the problems” when McDevitt mentioned banning military-grade weapons and again when he spoke of requiring insurance and training, similar to what the government requires of car owners and drivers.
Asked about his Democratic competition — first-time candidates Dorothy Gasque, an Iraq war veteran and Carolyn Long, a political science professor at Washington State University Vancouver — McDevitt, who also is a veteran, having served in the U.S. Army from 1975 to 1981, said he has a distinct advantage because he is the only candidate right now with enough cash on hand to compete with Herrera Beutler’s “war chest.”
Currently, McDevitt has just over $400,000 on hand — most of which he has loaned to his own campaign — compared to Herrera Beutler’s roughly $500,000.
“It’s going to take a lot to compete with her,” he said of the fourth-term Republican incumbent, who many people at Tuesday night’s town hall chastised for refusing to hold in-person town halls, instead hosting “telephone town halls.”
“I’ve been hearing from people that they believe these telephone town halls are controlled with pre-approved questions, so she’s not having to answer any tough questions,” McDevitt said.
Herrera Beutler has not had an in-person town hall since January of 2017, three days before President Donald Trump was sworn into office.
“I’m resentful, having no face-to-face time with our representative,” said a woman named Pat who attended Tuesday night’s town hall with McDevitt. “I figured that, if I’m going to gripe about her not having town halls, I’d better show up to this tonight.”
Although the 3rd Congressional District has traditionally swung toward the GOP, there are signs that the times may be changing. Last Friday, Cook Political Report downgraded the district from “Solid Republican” to “Likely Republican,” and a recent poll by Democrats showed Herrera Beutler may be vulnerable in the 2018 general election.
The primary election will be held on Aug. 7. Look for more information and stories about the candidates in future issues of The Post-Record and online at www.camaspostrecord.com.