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Where Voters Are: Southern Washington State


The coronavirus outbreak in Washington state is diverting a lot of attention that might otherwise be focused on the state's presidential primary next Tuesday. Ahead of the primary, we've been reporting in the southwestern part of the state this week as part of NPR's Where Voters Are project. Our hosts and reporters are visiting communities across the country to hear about the issues and concerns that are shaping the choices of voters like you this election year. Our focus this weekend has been on young voters in southwestern Washington, and we'll be hearing from some of them in just a few minutes.

But, first, I'm joined by reporter Troy Brynelson, who covers this region for Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, which is just across the Columbia River from where we are right now in Vancouver, Wash. Troy, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

TROY BRYNELSON, BYLINE: Hey, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, first of all, could you just describe southwestern Washington state for us?

BRYNELSON: Yeah, absolutely. So southwestern Washington state - when you think about it, you've got to think about the Columbia River. The river runs along the southern border, so you've got all these communities that have been based around timber, paper mills, aluminum smelters that were here using that cheap hydro power. And for '60s, '70s and '80s, those were really big industries around here.

But those have sort of gone by the wayside. You've seen globalization and environmental regulation really step in. And because of that, a lot of those industries aren't really too prominent anymore. The financial sector's growing around here. The manufacturing that you do see is going to be, like, semiconductor manufacturing. You're going to see a lot of drone manufacturing as well.

MARTIN: And what about the 3rd Congressional District that encompasses this area? A pretty big district, right?

BRYNELSON: Yeah. It is a big district. It runs the gamut. So boiled down, you're seeing - a lot of people discuss big government versus small government. So what that means is you're hearing from Republicans who say that they want less environmental regulation in their businesses that are going to hurt their industries. You might hear more liberal-leaning voters talk about how they want more minimum wage. This district has swung considerably in the last three decades three or four times already.

MARTIN: Back-and-forth between Democrats...

BRYNELSON: Republican and Democrat.

MARTIN: OK. And what about this year? Do you - you know, we've been running around talking to people. As I said, our focus has been, particularly, on younger voters. And that's been really interesting because we've been hearing a lot about Bernie Sanders, as you might imagine. But a lot of them are really clear about why. I mean, it's not because they just want people giving them free stuff. It's because they say they have seen health care costs crush their parents. They've seen educational costs weighing heavily on them.

And yet we've heard other people, you know, small business people in particular, say that they're either, you know, really on the fence or they don't want to talk about it. What do you hear? What are you seeing?

BRYNELSON: It's funny because just about everybody I've talked to has also mentioned health care in some capacity. But you're hearing different opinions about how they want that health care to be administered. Some of those people out in Pacific County still would say that they have seen similar things. They've seen people hurt by big medical bills. But at the same time, they don't necessarily feel like "Medicare for All" is the answer that they want.

MARTIN: And do you expect it to be close? Do you think this is going to be hard fought here?

BRYNELSON: I do. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who is the incumbent for the 3rd District - her first three election cycles, she was beating her opponents by 20 points. In 2018, she barely won by six points. So it bodes well for that Democratic front-runner, who is Carolyn Long, a political science professor. And so it seems like it's gonna be close. I'm hearing that from both sides.

MARTIN: That was Troy Brynelson. He covers southwestern Washington state for Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, which is just across the river from us here in Vancouver, Wash. Troy, thanks so much for talking to us.

BRYNELSON: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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