Congressional candidate Carolyn Long has featured her rural upbringing on the Oregon Coast as part of her sales pitch to voters at local campaign events.
But Long’s Oregon background is threatening to become a distraction as she emerges as the Democratic establishment’s favorite to unseat incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
Long — who has taught political science at Washington State University Vancouver for the past 22 years — relocated from Salem, Ore., after purchasing a Vancouver condo last July. Her husband and daughter still live in their Salem home while he awaits a job transfer, Long said.
Long maintains that her change of address is a non-issue, and her relatively recent move across the Columbia River hasn’t stopped her from garnering high-profile support.
“My decision to move here has been in the works for several years,” she said Tuesday in a phone interview.
Since formally announcing her candidacy on Nov. 30, Long has won endorsements from former long-time Southwest Washington Reps. Don Bonker and Brian Baird. She also has backing from a national women’s group and labor unions.
Long noted that she will meet all eligibility requirements when the state’s candidate filing week begins on May 14. She will have lived in the 3rd District for about 16 months by the time of November’s general election. After making the hour-plus commute for years, Long said she finally decided to move to Vancouver when she was appointed to an administrative position that required her presence on campus five days a week.
Nevertheless, both fellow Democrats and Republicans have questioned Long’s connection to Southwest Washington.
“I think they’re going for what might be to them a weakness of my candidacy, which has nothing to do with my qualities as a candidate or my positions on the issues,” Long said.
The term “carpetbagger” — a pejorative word used to describe out-of-town political candidates — has already reared its head.
“I think it’s a big mistake (for Democrats) to put all their power behind somebody who’s essentially carpetbagging,” Dorothy Gasque, who’s also running as a Democrat in the 3rd District, said in a December interview with Progressive Oregon.
Gasque, who rose to prominence as a Bernie Sanders supporter in 2016, has won early endorsements from left-leaning national grassroots organizations for her pledge to refuse corporate donations. (Long has also promised not to accept any corporate money.)
“I’m frustrated,” Gasque said in a phone interview Monday. “And I think that I have a right to be frustrated because the political establishment is trying to push me out this race to support someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in this community.”
Herrera Beutler has also sought to capitalize on Long’s Oregon roots. In a January fundraising appeal to supporters, the Battle Ground Republican singled out Long without mentioning her by name.
“According to the leftward-leaning New York Times, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have put me at the top of their target list,” she wrote. “Then, a university professor and resident of Oregon moved her family and changed her residence to Washington and declared her campaign against me … and then had the gall to claim that I was out of touch with the wishes of our district!”
The letter refers to Long as an “Oregon-based” opponent twice — a phrase that is echoed again in a subsequent letter. The letters do not mention Long’s opponents.
David McDevitt, a Vancouver businessman and licensed attorney who’s making his second congressional bid in the 3rd District, said in an interview Monday that it’s difficult to assess how the questions swirling around Long will play out.
“I think for a lot of folks it’s an issue, but for other folks it’s also not so much of an issue,” he said.
“I’m not making it an issue, but Jaime is certainly making it one.”
When asked if the incumbent campaign views Long as a favorite in the state’s top-two August primary, spokeswoman Angeline Riesterer said Herrera Beutler doesn’t view anyone as front-runner.
“But as far as we know, the other candidates in the race are at least Southwest Washingtonians and not political opportunists from Salem,” she said in an emailed statement. “Put the the shoe on the other foot — how would Oregon voters view a candidate who said, ‘I’m from Cowlitz County and have lived there for decades, but that’s OK because I drive to work in Portland?’ ”
Meanwhile, Long said questions about her connection to a place she’s worked and volunteered in for more than two decades are designed to distract.
“Instead of focusing on my 22 years of working in this community teaching thousands of students, they’re saying ‘Oh, you just moved here.’