Will it be deja vu in the race for the 4th Congressional District this fall?
Freshman U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Sunnyside, faces a repeat challenge from tea party favorite Clint Didier, a former NFL player and Eltopia farmer who won the crowded 2014 primary before being edged out by Newhouse in the general election, a race that reflected deep divisions in the Republican Party.
On the other side of the aisle is Democrat Doug McKinley, a Richland attorney running on a message of economic reform similar to that of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Two lesser-known candidates, Democrat John “The Man” Malan of Pasco and Republican Glenn Jakeman of Yakima, are also running.
“I’ve done my best to represent the 4th District over the past year and a half,” Newhouse said. “I hope to show that to voters.”
But while the incumbent says he feels good about his voting record and his ability to be re-elected, his challengers on the right and left say it’s a liability.
“My opponent claimed to be a conservative and then he voted for the omnibus bill,” Didier said, referencing the 2015 bipartisan budget deal. “He free-willingly voted to fund Planned Parenthood and to steal $150 million out of Social Security to give to disability (insurance program).”
Earlier this year, Didier’s Washington Patriots PAC ran an attack ad on Newhouse alleging that he advocated for extreme liberal positions on abortion and immigration issues, based on his vote for the omnibus bill.
Newhouse says Didier is misinterpreting his voting record.
“The omnibus budget bill, which I did vote for, included the Hyde Amendment, which banned government health care programs from providing federal funding for abortion,” Newhouse said. “I think it was very consistent with my positions from previous votes.”
And he said the Social Security transfer that Didier referenced was part of a different budget bill that he did not vote for.
On the other hand, McKinley said that Newhouse’s 2015 vote to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, which allowed young, undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, will cause him to lose the support of the district’s Latinos this time.
“A third of our district is Latino families,” McKinley said. “He promised them he would support DACA, and the fourth vote he took in Congress was against it. I don’t think people are going to forget that.”
Newhouse said he voted against the program because it was created through executive action, not Congress. He said immigration reform continues to be a priority for him.
“It was unconstitutional to take that executive action. I really think the president, by signing that executive action, put the people that came forward in a very precarious position because an executive action can be undone,” Newhouse said. “I’ve said many times that we need to find a way for people to be able to come here legally, work legally and have a pathway to legal status, but the only way for that to happen is through Congress.”
McKinley and Didier might not agree on much, but they both said Newhouse’s votes on stand-alone bills to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, were “show votes” on bills that he clearly knew weren’t going anywhere.
McKinley said he called Didier and encouraged him to run. Didier said he was surprised by the call because the way he sees it, Newhouse is voting like a Democrat.
“Didier clearly would have won last time but for the Democratic votes that went to Newhouse; he’s far more representative of the base of the Republican Party than Dan Newhouse,” McKinley said.
But he said it’s about more than just political strategy.
“People deserve to be represented by politicians who address their issues, but in my opinion, Newhouse is slippery, he’s not straight with voters,” McKinley said.
Newhouse says his positions and votes have been transparent and consistent.
“I think no one should be surprised by my position on things,” he said.
His other priorities include bills to authorize the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and to prevent future port slowdowns due to labor disputes, like the one that hit fruit exporters hard during the 2014-15 winter.
The West Coast ports and Pacific Rim markets are key to Washington’s economic vitality, Newhouse said, explaining his support for the TransPacific Partnership, a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries.
“In my view, when we can make our products more competitive, that’s a win for the state of Washington,” he said.
In terms of financial support, Newhouse is far outpacing his rivals.
As of April, the latest records available, Newhouse had $285,891 remaining in cash on hand after raising more than $600,000.
As of July 13, Didier had raised just $7,940 and had $3,659 on hand.
The other three candidates have to yet to file financial activity from April to June.
Didier said it would be wrong to interpret his lack of fundraising to a lack of interest or effort in his last-minute campaign.
“I’m letting Dan do his work back there because he’s getting the momentum for me; he’s had a lot of bad votes,” Didier said.
When he declared his candidacy on the second to last day of filing in May, Didier said on his weekly radio show that he’d been waiting for “someone to step up and run against” Newhouse.
“Honestly, I wish Dan would have been the conservative he said he was, because I love my farm,” Didier said. “But I’m going to fight for it” against federal regulation.
He opposes federal support for the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, the TransPacific Partnership, and any immigration plans that don’t start with border security first.
He says his campaign is based on a message of freedom and limited government.
“It’s what a lot of Republicans claim to support but don’t vote for,” he said. “A federal government that’s big enough to give you everything you need is big enough to take everything away.”
If elected, Didier plans to align himself with the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 36 far-right representatives known for a willingness to defy party leadership and block legislation on ideological grounds.
Didier said he left the Republican Party after the 2014 campaign because of his frustration with the party’s establishment, but has returned after being inspired by its presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
“I’m hearing from them in the 4th, they are tickled with Donald Trump,” Didier said. “I believe him when he says he wants to make American great again.”
Newhouse was more reticent in offering his support. He said Trump was not his first choice, but given the potential vacancies on the Supreme Court, it’s important to elect a conservative.
Meanwhile, McKinley says the ideological divide among Republicans gives him a shot, even though Democrats typically make up only about a third of the voters in the 4th District.
“I think there’s a consensus among some Republicans and some Democrats that what ails this country is too much wealth concentrated into too few hands, and American workers are not feeling the benefits of a growing economy,” McKinley said. “I’m running to win, but I’m also running to make sure this argument gets aired.”
Most people on welfare today are working, he said, and the problem is that some companies, such as Wal-Mart, don’t pay their workers a living wage.
“Companies who do this are parasites; they are essentially sucking off the rest of us and forcing us to subsidize their operations,” he said.
McKinley said his other priority would be comprehensive immigration reform, similar to what the Senate passed in 2013. He called Trump’s plans to deport 11 million people “absurd on an economic basis” since many of those undocumented immigrants make up the agriculture workforce. And he called Newhouse’s support for expanding the guest worker program “incoherent.”
“He wants to kick out people who are already here living honest lives, working these jobs, have families here, and bring in new guest workers to replace them. It would create chaos,” McKinley said. “The Republicans are using these Latino families as pawns to maintain their power.”
Two lesser-known candidates are also seeking the office. Retired electrician Glenn Jakeman is running as a Republican. He supports Trump’s efforts to control the border with Mexico.
“I think we should build a wall that will keep out illegals, but those who are here need to become citizens, so that if they do something stupid they don’t get deported,” he said.
He is unhappy with the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, saying it gives too much to fish and not enough for storage and irrigation. He also noted he’d like to see police officers tested for drug use.
The Pasco Republican candidate whose name appears on the ballot as “John (the man) Malan” did not respond to repeated calls.
If enough Democrats turn out to vote in the primary, McKinley is predicting that he and Didier will move forward from the primary to the general election.
But with little campaign cash and less name recognition than the candidate who’s already served a term in office already, it might still be a long shot to beat Newhouse.