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Jaime Herrera Beutler is one of two Republican members of Congress from Washington State who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump. Today, she faces Trump-backed opponents in her state's primaries. Troy Brynelson of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
JAIME HERRERA BEUTLER: Oh, my gosh. It's like a muddy rushing river.
TROY BRYNELSON, BYLINE: At a wastewater treatment plant, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler is making one of her few public appearances. She recently secured $1,000,000 in federal funds for this plant in the small town of Washougal.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Your support through House Approps for the anoxic selector, which is a little piece...
HERRERA BEUTLER: That's how you say it - anoxic.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Anoxic selector.
HERRERA BEUTLER: I'm not going to lie - I can read it, and I'm like, yeah, let's support that.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's right.
HERRERA BEUTLER: Looks important.
BRYNELSON: Currently in the fight of her political life, this is Herrera Beutler's public strategy, business as usual. Her campaign is spending feverishly to make sure she clears the primary Tuesday, but the incumbent says she's trying to let her votes in D.C. do most of the talking. She concedes that this cycle, in which her vote to impeach Trump led to an onslaught of conservative challengers, is new territory.
HERRERA BEUTLER: I've never been in this position in this way. I have no metrics or - I have no experience to draw from to say, well, this is how everything's going to work, and this is what I - how I should be running this race.
BRYNELSON: Herrera Beutler has stood by her impeachment vote, and Washington's top-two primary system may help her offset any losses on the right. The so-called jungle primary puts all candidates on the ballot regardless of party and advances the top two. She believes she can unite moderate Republicans, independents and even some left-leaning voters.
HERRERA BEUTLER: I'm a Republican, but I'm also very independent in my approach, and that's what people want to see here. So I'm betting that that's going to continue to be the thing that's most important to voters.
BRYNELSON: Another thing that may work in her favor is that conservatives flanking her from the right are at each other's throats.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOE KENT: I'm just going to address probably what's on everybody's mind. I'll address the attacks that are against me.
BRYNELSON: Trump-endorsed candidate Joe Kent is on the defensive. He's led in local polls, but outside spending has poured in. So on this summer night, with a crowd of about 30, he's taking the opportunity to defend himself against campaign mailers and ads that question his conservative values.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KENT: Right now, there's about $2 million that's gotten spent against me in the last week, which is a good thing. It means they're actually scared of me and a little bit threatened.
BRYNELSON: A lot of that's been spent directly by or on behalf of a fellow conservative, Heidi St. John, the Christian podcaster supporters have made the case that she's the true Trump candidate. Melinda Lucas of Ridgefield recalls being initially interested in St. John, but she was won over by Kent's policies, like withdrawing from foreign conflicts and building the border wall.
MELINDA LUCAS: Election fraud was a big one, and I will say my husband said he's a Green Beret. I trust him.
BRYNELSON: Kent's Special Forces career and a personal story of losing his wife to a suicide bombing in Syria have helped make him a Fox News darling. But some local Republicans worry about Kent's flirtation with extremism. He was a keynote speaker at a rally last September in D.C. calling for clemency for January 6 rioters. Kent calls any allegations of extremism nonsense. For a voter like Mark Jager, Kent and St. John are both difficult to assess.
MARK JAGER: I consider them kind of on the fringe, and it's a part of the party that I don't identify with. But they have absolutely the right to have their views and to be running in this race.
BRYNELSON: Herrera Beutler has his support, Jager says. But if she doesn't clear the primary...
If the top two comes up and Jaime is not in the top two...
JAGER: I will look at all candidates and - you know, including the Democrat - and will vote my conscience on that issue.
BRYNELSON: Jager's voted Republican for years, he says, so, like Herrera Beutler, this is new territory.
For NPR News, I'm Troy Brynelson in southwest Washington.
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