With new vote counts released Wednesday, Republican Pedro Celis remained in third place in the 1st Congressional District, leaving the GOP’s anointed 2014 challenger to rookie Democratic Congresswoman Suzan DelBene in danger of not making it to the November ballot.
Celis gained some ground, but still trailed fellow Republican Robert Sutherland by 265 votes as of Wednesday evening.
The only Democrat in the race, incumbent DelBene has about 51.5 percent of the primary vote. Sutherland and Celis were battling it out for the right to face her in the fall.
With tens of thousands of votes still to be counted, the race is too close to call. But even if Celis advances, he’ll face serious questions about his viability and his campaign’s strategy in the swing district.
A retired Microsoft engineer, Celis had been courted by GOP leaders, and state Republican Chair Susan Hutchison had made it clear he was the party’s choice in the 1st District race. On Tuesday night, Hutchison seemed surprised by the outcome during a phone interview from Chicago, where she was attending a Republican National Committee meeting.
“There is no question we are supportive of Pedro,” she said. “He is the one who got in the race and raised the money and did what serious candidates do.”
Sutherland, a retired biochemist from Granite Falls, said in an interview Wednesday he’s still not sure of the outcome in the primary. But he called his showing “nothing short of a miracle.”
Outspent 50 to 1 by Celis, Sutherland attributed his support to “out-hustling” rivals with hundreds of personal contacts with voters. “I don’t so much as have a road sign or a yard sign,” he said.
He added that Celis’ positions on issues from abortion to immigration were unclear and troubling to some conservative voters.
Sutherland has been upfront about his conservative views. On his website, he dismisses global warming as a “scare tactic” and asks, “Folks, have you had enough of their political Bull Crap yet?”
Viet Shelton, a spokesman for the DelBene campaign, said her strategy won’t change no matter which Republican advances to the general election. “We’ve always been saying the crop of candidates they have put up are too extreme for the district,” he said.