Far-right ex-cop Loren Culp announced Thursday that he would challenge Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, who is one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump in January. Culp, who was the GOP's 2020 nominee for governor, made it very clear he'd be making his campaign all about that vote: After accusing the incumbent of having a "spine made of jelly," Culp, without offering any evidence, accused Newhouse of making "some kind of deal" with Democrats.
Newhouse was already facing intraparty challenges on his right from state Rep. Brad Klippert and businessman Jerrod Sessler in next year's top-two primary, and more could still join. It's possible that a crowded field of opponents could split the anti-Newhouse GOP vote in the 4th District and allow the congressman to advance to a general election with a Democrat, but that's far from assured. This 58-40 Trump seat is red enough that Newhouse went up against a fellow Republican in both 2014 and 2016, and this eastern Washington seat will almost certainly remain very conservative turf after redistricting.
Culp may also be prominent enough to emerge as Newhouse's main foe, especially since Klippert did not report raising any money in the time between his January launch and the end of March. (Sessler entered the race in early April.) Culp himself served as the small community of Republic, which is located in the neighboring 5th District, in 2018 when he made news by announcing he wouldn't enforce a statewide gun safety ballot measure that had just passed 59-41.
Culp's stance drew a very favorable response from far-right rocker Ted Nugent, who posted a typo-ridden "Chief Loren Culp is an Anerican freedom warrior. Godbless the freedom warriors" message to his Facebook page.
Culp soon decided to challenge Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, and he quickly made it clear he would continue to obsessively cultivate the Trump base rather than appeal to a broader group of voters in this blue state. That tactic helped Culp advance through the top-two primary, an occasion he celebrated by reaffirming his opposition to Inslee's measures to stop the pandemic, including mask mandates.
Inslee ended up winning by a wide 57-43, but Culp responded by saying he'd "never concede." Instead, he filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a fellow Republican, that made allegations of "intolerable voting anomalies" for a contest "that was at all times fraudulent."
The state GOP did not welcome Culp's refusal to leave the stage, though. Some Republicans also openly shared their complaints about Culp's campaign spending, including what the Seattle Times' Jim Brunner described as "large, unexplained payments to a Marysville data firm while spending a relatively meager sum on traditional voter contact."
Culp also gave himself a total of $48,000 for lost wages and mileage reimbursement, a sum that Brunner said "appears to be the largest-ever for a candidate in Washington state." Republicans also griped that Culp had spent only about a fifth of his $3.3 million budget on advertising, a far smaller amount than what serious candidates normally expend.
Culp's attorney ultimately withdrew the suit after being threatened with sanction for making "factually baseless" claims. Culp himself responded to the news by saying that, while the cost of continuing the legal battle would have been prohibitive, "It doesn't mean that the war's over … It just means that we're not going to engage in this particular battle through the courts."
Newhouse, for his part, responded to Culp's new campaign by reaffirming that he'll be running for a fifth term next year. Newhouse brought in $288,000 during the first quarter for his campaign, and he ended March with $528,000 to defend himself.