POLITICS

Republicans from eastern, southern Oregon choose different styles in Senate primaries

Family members of two ousted Republican senators will take their place in the Oregon Senate next year after primary elections that saw hardline conservatives win in southern Oregon and more pragmatic Republicans prevail in eastern Oregon.

No Democrats running for the Senate faced primary challenges this year, but Republicans had several open seats because of retirements and a law that barred most sitting GOP senators from running for reelection because they participated in a six-week walkout in 2023. 

Sen. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, beat back claims that he wasn’t conservative enough to prevail in a four-way primary in the 1st Senate District, which includes the southern coast. Beatty Sen. Dennis Linthicum’s wife, Diane, and Cave Junction Sen. Art Robinson’s son Noah won their primaries in the adjacent 2nd and 28th districts in southern Oregon, and both are expected to continue their family members’ streaks of strident opposition to almost every bill in Salem. 

Meanwhile, former House Republican Leader Mike McLane and Wallowa County rancher Todd Nash handily won primaries in sprawling districts in eastern Oregon. Both indicated they want to work with other legislators to pass laws and bring funding back to their districts, rather than starting from a place of opposing every bill. 

Bryan Iverson, a political consultant from central Oregon who formerly served as head of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm and worked on state Rep. Christine Goodwin’s campaign against Robinson, said it’s hard to extrapolate much from primaries where only a quarter of registered voters turned out, but that there seemed to be a different tone among Republican primary voters in southern Oregon who preferred “obstructionist” candidates to the more “mainstream Republicans” who dominate eastern Oregon. 

“In the Republican primaries, at least in southern Oregon, you see victories by the same hard-right-leaning candidates and not the everyday Republicans,” he said. 

The Republicans who won contested primaries on Tuesday night represent safe districts and are all but certain to serve in January in the Senate, where Democrats now have a four-seat majority.  But Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, and Redmond school board member Michael Summers face tough general election races in the closely divided coastal 5th Senate District that Anderson now represents and the Democratic-leaning 27th Senate District in central Oregon that Summers is vying for, which is now represented by Sen Tim Knopp, R-Bend. 

Senate Minority Leader Daniel Bonham of The Dalles said Republicans aren’t taking anything for granted in November.   

“We clearly recognize, just going through numbers statewide, there are fewer Republicans than there are Democrats, period,” Bonham said. “Those districts certainly present challenges. I think our candidates are up for the challenge, but simultaneously, it’s going to take tremendous campaigns and spirited effort to get us across the finish line.”

 Sen. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, won his four-way Republican primary along the southern coast. (Jordan Gale/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

1st District along the southern coast

Brock Smith beat back three challengers in a race rampant with false claims about his record. He sent cease-and-desist letters to supporters of opponent Todd Vaughn early in the campaign after they began sending mail and bought a billboard falsely accusing him of connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

Hours before the ballot return deadline, Vaughn’s campaign sued Brock Smith over mailers that described Vaughn as “too extreme, dishonest and has no experience,” which the lawsuit maintained was false because Vaughn “is honest, he is not extreme and he has experience.” Brock Smith’s campaign ads also described Vaughn as connected to a misinformation group and said he had been kicked out of the Douglas County Republican Central Committee. 

Brock Smith won with nearly 57% of the vote, compared to about 29% for Vaughn, 9% for Paul Romero and 6% for Ashley Hicks. As of Wednesday afternoon, he said none of his opponents had conceded.

“I don’t think anyone has ever seen a campaign such as this, where this blatant misinformation continued to flow even though it was unfounded and disproven,” Brock Smith said.

He said he intends to continue his work in the Capitol, including trying to get more resources for preventing and fighting wildfires that have led to sky-high home insurance rates for Oregonians living near forests. 

2nd District in southern Oregon

Noah Robinson, son of departing Sen. Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, easily dispatched state Rep. Christine Goodwin, R-Canyonville, in the 2nd Senate District.

Noah Robinson
 Noah Robinson, son of current Sen. Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, beat state Rep. Christine Goodwin, R-Canyonville. (Campaign photo)

Noah Robinson is a familiar face around the Capitol – he has worked with his father for years, and during the past two legislative sessions as the elder Robinson’s health failed, Noah has consistently been by Art’s side on the Senate floor and in committee hearings.

Art Robinson has reliably been one of the most reliable “no” votes in the Senate, even on bills that otherwise have wide bipartisan support. Noah Robinson said he expects to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“There’s all this bipartisan stuff because of the deals, and voters don’t like that,” Robinson said. “So when you tell them that you’re against that, you’re gonna vote entirely from principle – obviously, you talk to the other side, try to make the bad bills less bad – but if the final product is something you don’t want, you vote against it, and that really appeals to the voters because that’s what they want.”

While Art Robinson split from the Republican caucus to form an Independent Caucus with Sen. Brian Boquist, a Dallas Republican who was registered with the Independent Party of Oregon for several years, Noah Robinson said he plans to stick with the Republican Caucus. Boquist was barred from running for reelection and is now the Republican nominee for state treasurer. 

The 2nd Senate District includes Josephine and parts of Douglas and Jackson counties. Robinson’s strong support in Josephine County, which represented the bulk of ballots cast in the primary, pushed him to winning more than 60% of the vote districtwide. 

Goodwin said she was “bummed” that she didn’t prevail, and that it was clear voters in Josephine County wanted a different brand of Republican. But she cautioned against the approach Robinson expects to take in Salem.

“The results in this election are clear,” she said. “Yet, Republicans must remember we cannot expect to succeed by refusing to engage and participate in the legislative process in Salem. My campaign team and I wish our Republican nominee the best and hope he can be an effective legislator.”

Iverson said Josephine County – or at least the Republicans in the area who showed up to vote – made it clear they wanted a different style of candidate.

“They want that brand of Republicans that are just obstructionist, basically,” Iverson said. “I think that they were pushing for that from the get-go, and if that’s obviously how it turned out. That’s not what Chris wanted to represent, she wanted to represent those people and have a different way of going about it than I think Noah would, but that’s not what the people wanted.” 

Diane Linthicum
 Diane Linthicum is set to follow in her husband’s footsteps as the senator from Klamath County. (Campaign photo)

28th District in southern Oregon

Dennis Linthicum of Beatty is now the Republican nominee for secretary of state, but his wife and chief of staff, Diane, plans to continue a seven-year tradition of Linthicums representing Klamath County in the state Senate. 

Diane Linthicum, who beat Klamath County Commissioner Dave Henslee with nearly 60% of the vote, did not return a call Wednesday and has not responded to various requests for interviews throughout her campaign. Dennis Linthicum, likewise, has never responded to phone calls or emails from the Capital Chronicle.

Henslee, who will leave the commission in December, said he was disappointed but respects voters’ decision. He said he’s looking for a new way to serve his community, and that he doesn’t have high hopes that Linthicum will serve the district well. 

“I think that the best predictor of the future is the past,” Henslee said. “She completely supports Dennis Linthicum’s voting record, and in my opinion, his voting record hasn’t benefited our district. I was running for people and for our district, and to try to move the needle and do some really positive things for District 28, and unfortunately, the voters didn’t see it the same way I did.” 

29th District in northeast Oregon

Todd Nash
 Wallowa County rancher Todd Nash won the primary to replace retiring Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena. (Campaign photo)

Cattle rancher and Wallowa County Commissioner Todd Nash handily won a four-way primary to replace retiring Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, in the 29th Senate District that covers most of northeast Oregon.

He captured about 53% of the vote, compared to about 25% for former Morrow County Commissioner Jim Doherty and 20% for Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann. Eastern Oregon University student Andy Huwe came in a distant fourth with less than 2% of the vote.

Nash also might make Oregon history as the first senator to hail from Wallowa County – he isn’t aware of any others, but he’s willing to be proven wrong if any historians know of a former senator from Oregon’s most remote county. 

He said he plans to meet with Republican senators, with county commissioners in the district and with natural resource groups including the Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association – which he previously led as president – to decide on legislation for next year. 

 Former Judge Mike McLane is likely to replace retiring Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale. (Campaign photo)

30th District in eastern Oregon

Former House Republican Leader Mike McLane will head back to the Capitol after winning more than two-thirds of the vote in a three-way contest in the sprawling 30th Senate District. Retiring Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, endorsed McLane, who was House GOP leader when Findley was first appointed as a state representative in 2018.

McLane left the state House in 2019 after eight years, six as leader of the Republican caucus, to serve as a circuit court judge in Crook and Jefferson counties. He returned to private practice as a lawyer in 2021. 

McLane described himself as a pragmatist when it comes to legislation. As a lawmaker, he said he plans to participate and contribute to policy decisions in every way he can, and he plans to speak soon with both Bonham and Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, about how he can help next year. 

“Ultimately, the goal is to get something that works,” he said. “During my time as a judge, I saw in the courtroom the consequences of policy passed in Salem, and it just shaped in me a view that perfection is often the enemy of the good. I believe that voters in my district want their representatives in Salem to do their best and to work hard, but ultimately to advocate for their interests and for the betterment of our state.” 

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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.