Congressman Kurt Schrader (Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons)
The midterm primary was largely a good night for Oregon incumbents running for reelection to the U.S. Senate and Congress with the exception of one: Rep. Kurt Schrader who’s seeking the Democratic renomination in the 5th Congressional District.
The Blue Dog Democrat, a seven-term moderate, trailed progressive attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner on Wednesday by just over 9,000 votes or about 23% of the total.
But the wild card in the race is Clackamas County, Schrader’s home base, which has lagged other counties in the vote count following a snafu that forced the county to redo tens of thousands of ballots.
“He definitely has a pot of votes in that county that they’re hoping turns the tide,” said Judy Stiegler, a former state representative who teaches political science at the Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend. “The 5th takes up two-thirds of the county.”
McLeod-Skinner, who lives in Terrebonne, has a strong base in Deschutes County. Stiegler suspects that when the final count comes in McLeod-Skinner will win, if only by a sliver, in parts of the district that includes Marion, Linn and Multnomah counties. That support will likely clinch her the race, according to David Wasserman, an analyst with the Cook Report, a nonpartisan political newsletter based in Virginia. About a week ago, the newsletter called the race for McLeod-Skinner.
“It would be a miracle at this point for Schrader to come back,” said Wasserman.
Schrader expressed optimism that voters will endorse him. “We will wait until the final votes are counted, including those here in Clackamas County, because every vote matters,” he said. He declined to comment further on Wednesday.
McLeod-Skinner was cautious as well.
“We’ve done our work, and it’s just a matter of giving time and space to the folks who are counting the ballots so we can figure out what the results are,” she told the Capital Chronicle. She said she doesn’t expect to know the final result until next week.
If Schrader loses, it would mark a rarity, according to political analyst Len Bergstein. He said the last time an Oregon congressional incumbent was ousted was in 1980 when a 31-year-old neophyte, Ron Wyden, beat U.S. Rep. Bob Duncan, who represented Oregon in the 3rd Congressional District for six years.
On Tuesday, Wyden won again, with nearly 90% of the vote, and this time to hold on to his Senate seat.
Oregon’s other U.S. representatives also won their nominations. Democrat Rep. Suzanne Bonamici in the 1st Congressional District in northwest Oregon drew nearly 90% of the vote. Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz, the incumbent in eastern Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, sailed to victory with about 75% of the vote. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the longtime Democratic incumbent in the state’s 3rd Congressional District that covers most of Multnomah County, garnered nearly 95% of the vote.
Analysts said Wyden is a shoe-in for another term though he said he will fight against Jo Rae Perkins of Albany, who won the Republican nomination. She lost to U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, in 2020.
“I’m looking forward to running hard through November on that proven record fighting for Oregonians’ interests – and against powerful special interests obsessed only with yanking our state and country backward,” Wyden said in a statement.
Bergstein expects Bentz, Bonamici and Blumenauer to win in November.
“The first, second and third congressional districts are all low-drama races,” Bergstein said. “We’ll have the return of the three Bs, and then we’ll have some interesting races that I think everyone will focus on.”National interest
The Schrader-McLeod-Skinner race already has drawn national attention. President Joe Biden supported Schrader, as did the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But that didn’t sit well with the chairs of the Clackamas, Deschutes and Marion County Democratic parties, who told the committee to back off and let Oregon pick the candidate.
Schrader also raised much more money – $1.3 million as of end April. That compared with nearly $580,000 for McLeod-Skinner. Stiegler said Schrader poured a lot of money into mailers and ads in Deschutes County.
“I think he saw early on that this was a vulnerability,” Stiegler said, referring to the county’s voters.
McLeod-Skinner benefitted from a wave of support for progressive female candidates, Stiegler said. Former longtime House speaker, Tina Kotek of Portland, won the Democratic nomination for governor; state Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego, garnered the most votes in the Democratic primary in the 6th Congressional District; and Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, a former state representative from Eugene, sailed to victory in the Democratic primary for the 4th Congressional District.
Though considered a progressive, McLeod-Skinner rejects the label.
“The policies that we’re talking about are addressing the challenges that people are facing on the ground,” McLeod-Skinner said. “A lot of progressives are raising concerns that some of these issues are not being dealt with but they are issues that all Oregonians care about. Regardless of party affiliation and regardless of whether you’re in an urban or rural area, we all want a roof over our head and food on our table. We all want opportunities for our kids, we want affordable health care so we don’t go bankrupt, and we don’t want to lose our family farms to the drought. If those are progressive ideas – sign me up.”
Analysts said McLeod-Skinner’s focus on working families resonates with many voters in the newly drawn district that leans more Democratic than before.
“Voters in this congressional district have a different profile than the voters that have voted in the past and that have sent Schrader to the Congress,” Bergstein said. “He represented them well.” But last year he angered many Democrats in opposing legislation that would have lowered drug prices. Schrader said he supports curtailing drug prices but opposed that legislation because it had no hope of passing the U.S. Senate. Nevertheless, critics have accused Schrader of being in Big Pharma’s pocket. The industry has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaigns.Tough fight ahead
If Schrader wins the nomination, analysts say the close primary race will make him vulnerable in the November election against face Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer. She won the five-way Republican primary with 42% of the vote as of Wednesday. Bergstein said Chavez-DeRemer, who’s Hispanic, could help Republicans in their effort to promote the party as being welcoming to diverse candidates. He called her a solid conservative, who will give voters “a very clear choice.”
She said in a statement on Wednesday that she will fight the “radical left” and work for “common sense policies” in Congress.
“Oregonians are frustrated with the Biden/Pelosi policies that have devastated our state,” she said. “Their policies have caused record-high inflation, a crisis on our southern border and indoctrination of our kids in public schools. Voters have a clear choice in November of who will represent them in Congress.”
Analysts said if McLeod-Skinner is the Democratic nominee, she will have to fight extremist labels.
“She’s a pretty progressive Democrat but I wouldn’t say she’s extreme,” Stiegler said. “She has a good sense of the communities in the district, what their various needs are and what issues are important.”
Either Democratic candidate could face voter anger in Oregon and across the country against the Biden administration and inflation. But other issues could become key – like abortion. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, which first guaranteed abortion rights nearly 50 years ago.
Bergstein said that issue could dog businessman Mike Erickson, who won the Republican primary in the newly created 6th Congressional District with 35% of Wednesday’s vote. This is his third try for Congress. In 2006, he lost to Democratic incumbent Darlene Hooley in the 5th District, and in 2008 he lost to Schrader.
Erickson says he’s anti-abortion but was accused in 2006 by a former girlfriend of paying for her abortion. He denied it.
He’ll be up against Salinas in the 6th District, which includes Polk and Yamhill counties and parts of Marion, Clackamas and Washington counties. By Wednesday, she drew nearly 37% of the vote in a nine-way race that included Carrick Flynn, a political neophyte largely financed by Sam Bankman-Fried, a crypto billionaire. Bergstein said it was a stunning victory.
“Andrea Salinas basically took on an $11 million dollar campaign against her – maybe $13 million – and she trounced the opponents. You have to tip your hat to the enormous accomplishment of her race in the face of overwhelming odds,” he said.
In the 4th Congressional District, represented by retiring Democrat Peter DeFazio, Hoyle easily won the Democratic nomination, drawing nearly 65% of the votes by Wednesday evening. She’ll face Alek Skarlatos, the Republican nominee, in November. Unlike Hoyle, he has no political experience.
Skarlatos is a “celebrity candidate,” Bergstein said. He’s a former National Guardsman who stopped a gunman on a Paris-bound train with two other Americans in 2015. That same year he came in third with a professional dancer as his partner on the TV program “Dancing with the Stars.” This is Skarlatos’ second run for Congress. In 2020, he was the Republican nominee in the 4th District.
Bergstein said it could be a tough fight.
“It would be easy to discount celebrity candidates but there have been a series of celebrity candidates who’ve been elected,” Bergstein said. “You can’t discount Skarlatos. The Republicans will be looking to pick up seats in Congress.”
Results as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Ron Wyden (incumbent) – 89.4%
Brent Thompson – 3.4%
William Barlow III – 6.6%
Jo Rae Perkins – 32.4%
Darin Harbick – 30.5%
Sam Palmer -12.6%
Christopher Christensen – 8.2%
Ibra Taher – 1.9%
Jason Beebe – 11.7%
Congressional District 1
Suzanne Bonamici (incumbent) – 88.8%
Scott Phillips – 8.3%
Christian Robertson – 2.7%
Christopher Mann – 67.1%
Armidia (Army) Murray – 30.5%
Congressional District 2
Joe Yetter – 69.3%
Adam Prine – 28.8%
Cliff Bentz (incumbent) – 75.8%
Mark Cavener – 18.7%
Katherine Gallant – 5.1%
Congressional District 3
Earl Blumenauer (incumbent) – 94.7%
Jonathan Polhemus – 4.9%
Joanna Harbour – 96.9%
Congressional District 4
Val Hoyle – 64.6%
Sami Al-Abdrabbuh – 6.8%
G. Tommy Smith – 1.4%
John Selker – 5.3%
Steve William Laible – 0.3%
Jake Matthews – 0.6%
Doyle Canning – 15.4%
Andrew Kalloch – 4.8%
Alex Skarlatos – 99.3%
Congressional District 5
Jamie McLeod-Skinner – 60.7%
Kurt Schrader (incumbent) – 38.7%
Lori Chavez-DeRemer – 41.7%
Jimmy Crumpacker – 30.4%
Madison Oatman – 2.9%
Laurel Roses – 8.7%
John Di Paola – 15.8%
Congressional District 6 (new)
Andrea Salinas – 36.7%
Cody Reynolds – 11.6%
Teresa Alonso Leon – 6.3%
Loretta Smith – 9.6%
Kathleen Harder – 8.4%
Matt West – 7.6%
Carrick Flynn – 18.5%
Greg Goodwin – 0.3%
Ricky Barajas – 0.4%
Mike Erickson – 35%
Ron Noble – 18.1%
David Russ – 3.8%
Amy Ryan Courser – 15.6%
Nathan Sandvig – 3.5%
Angela Plowhead – 12.7%
Jim Bunn – 10.6%
Source: Oregon Secretary of State’s Office
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