VANCOUVER, WA--If you ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Jaime Herrera shouldn’t exist. She’s a conservative, Hispanic woman who is the Republican nominee for Congress in Washington state’s 3rd congressional district. In August, Reid told a Latino audience that he didn’t know “how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican.” When Herrera, 31, first heard Reid’s remarks, she was momentarily dumbfounded. “It was a sense of disbelief at first,” she tells me at her campaign headquarters in Vancouver, Wash.—just north of Portland, Oregon. “But then I realized that this man, who is the face of the Democratic Party, does not understand the American people. Most Americans believe in individual responsibility, liberty, personal ownership, and basic fairness. Those are American, and fairly conservative, values that appeal to all sorts of people, regardless of background.”
Herrera’s journey to becoming her party’s nominee in a highly contested Congressional election has been rather circuitous. She grew up in her district and graduated from the University of Washington in 2004 after working her way through school. After a stint as a White House intern, Herrera joined the Capitol Hill staff of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican Congresswoman from Eastern Washington, whom Herrera considers a mentor. After moving back west, where she’s served in the Washington state legislature for three years, Herrera says she harbored neither the intention nor the desire to return to Washington, DC. But all of what was about to change.
The seminal moment came last summer at the height of the national healthcare debate. Congressman Brian Baird, the Democrat who currently represents WA-03, put his foot in his mouth by likening anti-Obamacare protesters to Nazis. “What we’re seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics. I mean that very seriously,” he said on August 5, 2009. A few days later, Herrera found herself inundated with requests that she challenge Baird, some of which came in an usual setting—her own wedding. “Some of our friends were asking me to run at our wedding reception. I’d been married for about two hours at that point,” she recalls. “My husband stepped in and said, ‘we’re not talking about this until after our honeymoon,’ which delayed our discussions for a little while.”