Republican congressional debate fervor

Hundreds of people waited outside in the 80-degree weather Tuesday evening to see their favorite candidate.

The event, a congressional debate at Vancouver RV Inn Style, spotlighted 3rd Congressional District candidates Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, 17th District Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, Heidi St. John, R-Battle Ground, and Leslie French, R-Camas.

Many attendees carried campaign signs or wore similar swag – either displaying contenders’ names or some derivative of traditional patriotic slogans. “Let’s Go Brandon,” “We the People” paired with an illustration of an AR-15, and “I Tested Positive for Freedom” were few examples of the various graphic tees floating through the venue.

People sipped wine or water from tiny plastic cups and mummers from the crowd traveled throughout the event space.

Although there were four challengers, there were clearly two of whom had the largest supporter base: Kent and St. John.

As all the candidates shared their qualms about Southwest Washington and proposed their solutions, Kent and St. John’s answers solicited the most raucous. Kraft and French gathered some applause and general audience engagement, yet it was the former candidates’ supporters who were frequently hushed by the moderator’s gavel.

It wasn’t until closing statements that the room erupted into chaos.

As Kent delivered his final words, he called attention to candidates’ previous promises last fall to withdraw from the race if one of them received Donald Trump’s endorsement. At the time, the discussion fell before Kent, St. John and previous Republican candidate Wadi Yakhour.

When Trump assigned his backing to Kent in September, Yakhour dropped out of the race while St. John stayed — a decision that resulted in criticisms from conservative voters, as well as the recent upheaval among debate attendees.

St. John delivered her closing remarks shortly afterwards, asserting that her decision to stay in the race was based on Kent’s previous registration as a Democrat in Multnomah County, Ore., where he voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primary. St. John added that, unlike Kent, she has a consistent history of being a conservative.

The noise in the convention center amplified, consisting of both scoffs and cheers, making it hard to discern what the candidate was saying. Then the rest of the evening devolved.

Kent’s supporters chanted as they thrusted their signs in the air — some of which had St. John’s face photoshopped on Hillary Clinton’s body. What is the connection between the individuals? I’m still unsure after repeatedly searching my brain for the answers. St. John’s base was quieter, as they applauded their candidate after her remarks and directed their glares toward the rowdiness.

Ah, election season.

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker is a politics reporter for The Columbian.

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