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Congressional Candidate, Vancouver Democrat Carolyn Long

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're in Washington state this week as part of NPR's coverage of key swing districts around the country this election year. And in this state, that means the 3rd Congressional District. In presidential terms, this district went for Barack Obama in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012 and then Donald Trump four years ago. And as far as congressional elections go, the 3rd flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2010. That's when Jaime Herrera Beutler was first elected to the House of Representatives. She is now the only woman of color who is part of the GOP House delegation.

We invited the congresswoman to come on the program, but her staff did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. We also invited her main Democratic challenger to join us. She is Carolyn Long, a political science professor at the Vancouver campus of the Washington State University. She did accept our invitation, and she is with us now. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

CAROLYN LONG: Thank you. It's a pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: So you're hoping to flip this district back to blue. And we've been hearing it's going to be very close because your district is purple. We can say it's purple, closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. Why do you think that is?

LONG: Well, I think it's a district of really independent-minded people. And we've seen that through going back-and-forth, and you went through the history. And I think we have a district where folks really want to see problem-solvers in office. They want to see people who are listening to them and reaching out to their community. And we've seen it get more purple because we had a successful run last time. And I think that shows that it is a competitive district.

MARTIN: Now, Representative Herrera Beutler has been representing this district for almost a decade now. And one of the reasons we came here is that you face a situation that is kind of analogous to that of Democrats, nationally, who want to take back the White House. So what's your theory of the case? Is it about getting more of your people out? Or is it about getting Republicans to kind of be open to a Democrat? What's your theory of the case?

LONG: You know, my - I'm focused on the 3rd Congressional District and making sure that we get our message out to all the voters in the district. Probably the biggest pool of voters in the 3rd are those voters who are unaffiliated. So it really is about energizing them as well as keeping the Democrats who traditionally would vote for you. And one of the things we found in the election last time is when we went out to the community and listened to the voters, they also really wanted problem-solvers. They wanted people, again, who would pay attention to what's on their mind. And that would be - a key to victory is showing them that you're listening and that you can do so.

MARTIN: Listening to what, though, what, in particular? What do you think is the key to getting those people who are open to a different message, as it were, like Independents in this case, so unaffiliated voters in this case?

LONG: The key that I saw last time when I did my 46 in-person town halls is they want a representative who's committed to them. And they have somebody now who doesn't come home very often. And so they want somebody who'll listen to their concerns. And as far as issues, that's for - as to health care, lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

And protection of the environment is something that I hear a lot about. That sort of - diverse to who you're talking about. For some people, it's focusing on clean energy jobs. And for others, it's protecting our public lands and waters. So those are the issues that are resonating with the people of the district.

MARTIN: We've been talking to a lot of young people in your district this week. And a lot of them are very fired up to vote, but a lot of them aren't. All right? And a few of them told us that they don't feel included in politics. They don't feel that the candidates are necessarily speaking to them. And they told us that that's a big reason why they think that a lot of young people don't vote. What do you say to that?

LONG: I think they're right, you know? I've had the pleasure for the last 25 years to speak to young men and women when I've been teaching politics. And what I see, overall, is just a tremendous cynicism. And my response is - how can you blame them? They've seen popular-vote winners for the presidency not win the Electoral College. They've seen the corrosive role of money in politics. They've lived through this incredible polarization where people are attacking one another rather than working together. And so that cynicism is reflected in them not being involved, you know?

On the other side of the coin, I also hear a lot of hope in some of our young people who are fired up because they are seeing candidates who present themselves as somebody who's authentic and willing to listen to what they have to say and not being dismissive of them because they're younger voters.

MARTIN: That was Carolyn Long. She's a Democrat running for Congress here in the 3rd Congressional District in Washington state. Thank you so much for talking with us here in Vancouver.

LONG: Thank you so much, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.