Dexter, Bynum clinch Democratic nods in Oregon congressional primaries

Money and endorsements mattered in Oregon’s contested Democratic congressional primaries, with state Reps. Maxine Dexter and Janelle Bynum clinching nominations. 

Dexter is all but certain to represent Oregon in Congress, as the 3rd Congressional District based in east Portland and the Columbia River Gorge is overwhelmingly Democratic. Retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer held the seat for nearly 30 years.

Bynum, meanwhile, will face a formidable challenge in November as Democrats fight to take the 5th District back from first-term Republican Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer. The district, which stretches from Bend to Portland, is one of a handful of congressional districts nationwide that could determine which party controls the U.S. House in 2025. 

Oregon’s other congressional races had no surprises: Chavez-DeRemer, Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz and Democratic Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Val Hoyle and Andrea Salinas coasted to victories in their respective primaries. Salinas faces a rematch with 2022 Republican nominee Mike Erickson, while Hoyle appears likely to face retired Air Force Col. Monique DeSpain in the general election. 

3rd District

Blumenauer’s retirement gave Portland-area Democrats an opportunity to represent the state’s most consistently liberal area in Congress – and potentially serve for decades, as he did. Dexter, former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal and Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales quickly emerged as the three front-runners. 

Dexter, a state representative since 2020, is a pulmonary and critical care doctor who has planned on serving in Congress since she was in college. 

Chart by Alex Baumhardt using Oregon Secretary of State data.

She came out to an early lead, capturing nearly 53% of the vote in initial returns posted shortly after 8 p.m. Jayapal was in second, with 25% of the vote, followed by Morales, with almost 15%. Additional results are expected later on Tuesday and throughout the next week as election officials process ballots. 

Blumenauer, who did not endorse anyone running, congratulated Dexter on her primary victory. 

“Maxine has proven herself to be a serious and effective legislator,” Blumenauer said. “I am confident she’ll take this success with her to Washington, D.C. I look forward to partnering with her to ensure our district is well-served when she is elected in November. There is a lot of work to do on behalf of our community.”

Jayapal is the older sister of U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents a Seattle-area district and is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She served on the Multnomah County Commission from 2019 until 2023, when she resigned to focus on the congressional run. 

Morales has served on the Gresham City Council since 2019 and has spent most of the past decade trying to help other candidates from east Multnomah County get elected through his political advocacy organization, East County Rising. 

The Democratic primary was rocked by a flood of outside money, most benefitting Dexter. The 314 Action Fund, a national group named for the first three digits of pi and that backs Democratic scientists, spent about $2.2 million to support Dexter. Jayapal and Morales claimed, without providing evidence, that the group was funneling money for Republican donors and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But fundraising forms filed by the group Monday show that the bulk of the funds came from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, investor Robert Granieri and Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney, all New Yorkers. 

A newly formed group, Voters for Responsive Government, spent at least $3.25 million on ads attacking Jayapal, but the source of its funding still remains secret. The organization turned in a federal filing on Monday that listed no donors. 

5th District 

Political analysts have spent nearly two years rehashing the 2022 race in the 5th Congressional District, in which McLeod-Skinner trounced incumbent Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader in the primary and then lost the general election to Chavez-DeRemer by 2 percentage points. McLeod-Skinner has argued that national Democrats hung her out to dry by redirecting money and ad time from the 5th District to bolster Democratic nominee Andrea Salinas in the neighboring 6th District, and said that she was running a better campaign this time around.

Chart by Alex Baumhardt using Oregon Secretary of State data.

But Democratic leaders in Oregon and nationally weren’t willing to take another chance on McLeod-Skinner, especially not after the Capital Chronicle and then Willamette Week reported on complaints from former staff that they endured a hostile environment at work. They said her behavior led to her losing what was otherwise a winnable race in 2022. 

This time, Democratic leaders coalesced around Bynum, a state representative since 2017 who twice beat Chavez-DeRemer in legislative races and promised that she would do so again. 

Oregon’s three female governors, most of the state’s Democratic legislative and congressional organizations and all major endorsing newspapers in the state put their weight behind Bynum. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also backed her candidacy, adding her to its “Red to Blue” list of preferred candidates to flip Republican districts. 

Bynum also raised significantly more than McLeod-Skinner, bringing in more than $1.1 million for her campaign compared to about $700,000 raised by McLeod-Skinner. 

The support paid off for Bynum, who in initial results posted on Tuesday night was beating McLeod-Skinner with nearly 70% of the vote and leading by large margins in all but one county in the district – the sole vote counted from Jefferson County went to McLeod-Skinner. Bynum’s margins were largest in Clackamas County, where she lives, but she was beating McLeod-Skinner by a three-to-two margin in Deschutes County, where McLeod-Skinner built her base. 

“There is so much at stake in this election and we have a choice between a democracy that works for folks here in Oregon, or the dysfunction in Congress that works for no one,” Bynum said in a statement. “Our district cannot afford two more years of an extreme enabler like Lori Chavez-DeRemer, who has gone along with the chaos of her far-right party and proven herself to be a part of the problem in DC at a time when our families need answers more than ever. In Congress, I’ll work to address our growing housing crisis, create good-paying jobs, and bring federal resources home where they belong. And unlike Lori Chavez-DeRemer, I will do everything I can to protect and expand abortion access for Oregon women. The fight for our families and our future starts now – and I’m ready to lead.”

The race has seen a flood of outside money, with close to $1.3 million boosting Bynum and more than $500,000 in ads backing McLeod-Skinner. Last-minute McLeod-Skinner ads, paid for by a newly formed political action committee that has ties to Republican operatives, sparked concerns among Democrats that the GOP was meddling to elect a weaker candidate.

McLeod-Skinner made the same allegations about ads boosting Bynum, including about $475,000 spent by the 314 Action Fund and more than $800,000 from the Mainstream Democrats PAC controlled by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.

And while McLeod-Skinner didn’t have much institutional support, she touted grassroots backing from local Democrats, especially in Deschutes County where she had built a strong base during previous campaigns for Congress and secretary of state. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.