Republicans are facing strong headwinds going into the 2018 midterms, but a new poll out Thursday suggests that a crowded field of Democrats are still heavy underdogs in the race to unseat incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.

The nonpartisan poll, conducted by independent pollster Stuart Elway, offers the first glimpse of the year into how the race for Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District is shaping up.

While the Elway poll did not survey enough voters in individual districts to be statistically reliable, the pollster did combine two western districts currently held by House Republicans to gain a composite picture.

When combining the 3rd District with the 8th District, a generic Republican led a Democrat 48 to 31 percent, the poll found.

That’s welcome news for Herrera Beutler, who has come under fire by Democrats for her recent vote in favor of the Republican tax plan signed into law by President Donald Trump last month.

“Of course it’s always nicer to be ahead than behind, but we’re not taking anything for granted and look forward to a good campaign,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement to The Daily News.

Herrera Beutler has defended her tax vote, touting an estimate that a family of four in Southwest Washington making $83,874 will save $2,385 annually under the new plan, according to calculations by the House Ways and Means Committee. Days after the bill passed, she also noted that Boeing announced it will invest $300 million into its employees and charities as a direct result.

But Swing Left — a liberal group that’s raising money to topple vulnerable House Republicans — cited Herrera Beutler’s vote as one of the reasons why it recently added the 3rd District to its list of winnable contests. Critics of the tax bill point to independent analyses that say the vast majority of benefits will flow to the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

Swing Left has already raised $6,618 from 33 individual donors for Herrera Beutler’s eventual challenger since it announced it was targeting her on Dec. 14.

Four Democrats have announced congressional bids in the 3rd District. Vancouver businessman David McDevitt is running for the second time after losing in the 2016 August primary. Iraq war veteran Dorothy Gasque announced her campaign in June. Small business owner and scientist Peter Harrison announced his campaign in October. And Washington State University Vancouver professor Carolyn Long held a formal campaign kickoff event in November.

The poll results look better for Democrats when combining the four Washington districts currently held by Republicans (the state has 10 total congressional districts). According to that sampling of voters, a generic Republican beat a generic Democrat 44 percent to 35 percent — failing to win a majority.

The generic vote statewide for Congress favored the Democratic candidate by 10 points. The poll also found a 21-point gender gap, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans among women by 43 percent to 22 percent. And Democrats had a 16-point lead among likely November voters.

However, the poll noted, party identification is not destiny. Washington does not require party identification, and although Democrats had a 13-point advantage headed into the 2014 midterms, the total vote for all state House races that year was tied at 47 percent.

Vancouver businessman David McDevitt, who’s challenging Herrera Beutler for the second time, said he wasn’t particularly surprised by the early poll results.

“I’m comfortably cautious and optimistic,” he said. “The rural parts of the 3rd Congressional District are pretty red.”

Of the seven counties comprising the 3rd Congressional District, only Clark County voted for the Democratic presidential ticket — and Hillary Clinton won there by just 316 votes.

But McDevitt also noted that the Cook Political Report, a well-respected handicapper of congressional races, recently rated the district as +4 Republican, meaning it’s only slightly more GOP-friendly.

“The million dollar question is, are people upset about what’s going on in the federal government at the moment and will they be motivated to vote?” he said.

The Elway poll surveyed 504 randomly selected registered voters. Live surveys were conducted by professional interviewers between Dec. 27 and Dec. 30, with 28 percent of interviews conducted on cell phones. The overall poll results have a 4.5 percent margin of error.

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