A lthough he has been in the spotlight for more than a year as a candidate for Congress, we have no idea what Republican Joe Kent believes. The bigger problem: Neither do voters.
Kent is running for Congress from Washington’s 3rd District, against Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, and during a debate between the candidates Saturday, he rebuked positions that have been cornerstones of his candidacy. Kent is attempting a late-campaign swing toward moderation that is both disingenuous and confusing.
Voters should not be fooled by a candidate who is so bereft of convictions. Instead, they should recognize that Kent already has demonstrated what he stands for, regardless of his wink-wink change of tune.
Throughout his campaign, Kent has claimed that Donald Trump legitimately won the 2020 presidential election but was undermined by rampant voter fraud. He has echoed Trump claims that have been offered without proof and have been rejected by dozens of courts. Kent has said elections are “rigged and stolen.”
He told Oregon Public Broadcasting, “Silly me I was thinking the election was going to be fair.” He told The Atlantic that Trump won the election.
In the Voters’ Pamphlet, Kent’s list of priorities includes: “Investigating the 2020 general election, election integrity laws and impeaching Biden and Harris immediately.”
Kent also has leaped to the defense of insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He has said people jailed in connection with the attack are “political prisoners,” and he delivered a speech at a “Justice for J6” rally near the U.S. Capitol in September 2021. In that speech, he falsely claimed that people facing criminal charges for the attack are being denied due process.
The strategy has worked to this point. Kent won an endorsement from Trump and finished second to Perez in the primary election, defeating Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and advancing to the general election.
But Saturday’s debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, revealed a different Kent.
During a “lightning round” that called for one-word answers from the candidates, each candidate was asked, “Do you support President Biden as the lawfully elected president of the United States?” Kent answered “yes.”
When asked to “characterize the individuals who tried to stop the transfer of power at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and who have to date been arrested and convicted,” Kent responded, “felons.”
Both answers conflict with positions that Kent has embraced and has repeated for more than a year.
Both answers indicate a candidate willing to say one thing to a receptive audience and quite another to a different audience.
Undecided voters should question whether a candidate who so easily flip-flops can be trusted.
Kent supporters should question his integrity; if his debate answers are designed to pander to a general audience, can they believe anything he says? The Columbian’s Editorial Board is eager to seek clarification from Kent, but he has declined to speak with the board. Avoiding accountability, apparently, is another of his campaign strategies.
Kent, of course, is not the first politician to offer conflicting messages depending on who is listening.
But in assessing a candidate who is new to politics, it can be difficult for voters to determine where that candidate stands on important issues. It seems that Joe Kent can’t figure out where he stands, either.