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Joe Kent’s Tumultuous Campaign Comes to a Close
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Joe Kent’s Tumultuous Campaign Comes to a Close

The candidate in Washington state’s 3rd District has made headlines for his controversial foreign policy views, 2020 election denialism, and far-right ties.

In early March, far-right activist David Carlson invited Joe Kent, a GOP candidate in Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District, to join him for a live-streamed YouTube interview so the Trump endorsee could set the record straight on his relationship to white nationalist activist Nick Fuentes. 

What began as an effort to clear the air on the Fuentes front quickly devolved into an issues-based litmus test that went poorly for Kent, a first-time candidate who faces pro-impeachment GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in today’s jungle primary.  

The interview now goes down as one of the more disturbing moments in Kent’s congressional campaign. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with there being a white-people special interest group,” Kent says at one point in the interview. “They have to be very careful about the way they couch that and the way they frame that, obviously in terms of messaging and in terms of getting credibility. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. As far as me running as a candidate, running out there and saying this is all about white people, that does not seem like a winning strategy.”

Kent spent the rest of the 47-minute livestream groveling before Carlson and indulging the young activist’s provocative questions about immigration, religion, and white Christian nationalism. It’s part and parcel for Kent, who regularly makes headlines for his controversial foreign policy views, 2020 election denialism, internal staff disputes, and dalliance with far-right figures on the campaign trail. 

Just last week, the Associated Press reported that Kent paid $11,375 in consulting fees to Graham Jorgensen, “who was identified as a Proud Boy in a law enforcement report and was charged with cyber stalking his ex-girlfriend in 2018.” Those charges were later dismissed after a judge ordered a temporary order of protection against him.

There’s also his general consultant Matt Braynard, an ex-Trump campaign staffer who attended last year’s America First Political Action Conference hosted by Fuentes—who dabbles in Holocaust denial and attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. 

Whether Kent’s ties to far-right figures have any bearing on his electability will come to a head in just a few hours, when voters in Washington cast their primary ballots in today’s jungle primary. The top two candidates will then advance to the general election in November.

Only a few public polls have been conducted on this race. But Federal Election Commission reports show Kent and Herrera Beutler in the lead on the fundraising front: As of the FEC’s June 30 filing date, Herrera Beutler had raised $3.5 million in total and had $1 million on hand.  (A big chunk of her fundraising haul came from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s joint fundraising PAC Take Back the House 2022.) Kent finished the last fundraising quarter in second place, having raked in $2.3 million in total and ending last quarter with $353,000 in the bank.

Herrera Beutler also got a last minute leg up from Conservatives for a Stronger America, a new super PAC that is reportedly pouring millions of dollars in mailers and TV ads propping up Republican candidate Heidi St. John. 

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Kent campaign. “Not only are they attacking me directly, they’re trying to split the MAGA vote by saying that the spoiler candidate in the race has President Trump’s endorsement,” Kent said in a fundraising email last week. 

The highest-raising Democratic candidate, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, is widely seen as a nonentity in the race. Trump won the district by four points in 2020. Herrera Beutler performed even better, beating her Democratic opponent that year by 13 points.

Local Republican officials say that Democrats are keenly aware of this dynamic. “My sense is that the Democrats have resigned themselves to the seat being Republican and any effort going into the race is to keep [Herrera Beutler] in office as least harmful to their agenda,” said Jerry Cooper, vice chair of Cowlitz County’s Republican Central Committee.

None of this bodes well for Kent and his supporters, who hope that today’s primary will be a referendum on Herrera Beutler’s impeachment vote. “She voted for the radical Democrat second impeachment hoax where the Republicans stood up tall for me, but she didn’t—she was one of 10 people,” Trump said during a tele-rally with Kent last week of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach. Besides Herrera Beutler, two others who voted to impeach are on the ballot today.

A hop and a skip away from Herrera Beutler’s turf, GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse faces Trump-endorsed Loren Culp in Washington’s 4th District. And In Michigan’s 3rd, GOP Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan is up against Trump-endorsed John Gibbs.

Like Culp and Gibbs, Kent has spent the entirety of his campaign spouting conspiracy theories about whether Joe Biden was legitimately elected, going so far as to tell The Dispatch in an interview last year that he supports a congressional inquiry into last year’s presidential election results.

He’s also garnered quite a bit of attention for his controversial foreign policy views, particularly when it comes to the war in Ukraine. “Putin has laid out what he wants in Ukraine—a decent starting point,” Kent said during an isolationist foreign policy conference earlier this year.

U.S. military engagement is deeply personal to Kent, a former Green Beret who served 11 combat deployments overseas and whose late wife Shannon, a navy cryptologist, died in a suicide bombing in 2019 while fighting ISIS. 

It’s that unimaginable loss that first endeared Trump to Kent. “I first met Joe at Dover Air Force Base and that was a rough day for everybody. But it was a day where his beloved wife, a fallen warrior, was being brought back home from the Middle East where she had been laid down and her life was taken from her in defense of our nation,” the former president said during last week’s tele-rally before taking credit for Kent’s decision to run for Congress. “After about a half hour I actually looked at him—maybe I had something to do with this —and said you know what you oughta run, someday you oughta run for office in honor of your wife. And that’s what he’s done.”

Harvest Prude contributed reporting to this piece.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.