DeFazio’s District Could Be Competitive if Open

Posted December 17, 2007 at 6:46pm

Oregon’s Congressional incumbents aren’t going anywhere next year — not if they have anything to say about it.

[IMGCAP(1)]That means the crop of up-and-coming Beaver State politicos with Capitol Hill aspirations either have to wait until at least 2010 for a possible retirement, or embark on a costly, uphill battle against a sitting Member.

With 2008 nearly here, there are a couple of such challenges under way, with millionaire businessman Mike Erickson (R) taking a second consecutive run at Rep. Darlene Hooley (D) in the 5th district and state House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) looking to oust Sen. Gordon Smith (R).

Beyond that, however, the 2008 Congressional playing field appears quiet.

“Oregon is almost like a liberal, libertarian state,” one Democratic operative said . “Oregon voters are fiercely independent.”

That populist, independent character tends to cause trouble for sitting incumbents, and future election cycles could see several state and local officials trying to move up.

Three-term Sen. Ron Wyden (D) isn’t up for his third term until 2010. No Republican has expressed interest in challenging him yet, but GOP operatives based in Oregon say the party could turn to Rep. Greg Walden when the time comes to recruit a Wyden challenger.

Walden is serving his fifth term in the vast central- and eastern-Oregon 2nd district. If Oregon Republicans could choose, most would pick Walden to challenge Wyden in 2010.

But absent a Walden candidacy, there are nearly a half-dozen Republicans that could be recruited by the GOP to run for Senate next cycle, including state Sens. Jason Atkinson and Frank Morse, state House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna, former elected state Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts and 2002 GOP gubernatorial nominee Kevin Mannix.

Mannix, a former state GOP chairman, sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2006 as well, but came up short.

Democrats tried and failed to recruit several high-profile challengers to take on Smith this cycle. However, those candidates said no only to running in 2008. They did not say never.

Among those whom Democrats might tap in future cycles who said no to running this cycle are Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio, who hold the 3rd district and 4th district, respectively, as well as state Treasurer Randall Edwards and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo.

Both Castillo and Edwards are termed out in 2008.

Other Democrats considered as possible Senate candidates include former state Sen. and 2008 Oregon secretary of state candidate Kate Brown; state Sen. and 2008 Oregon treasurer candidate Ben Westlund (a former Republican) and state Representative candidate Jefferson Smith.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) was re-elected to a second term last year, but he is 67 and has said he has no political aspirations beyond his current office.

Rep. David Wu (D) is serving his fifth term in the Democratic-leaning but competitively drawn 1st district of suburban Portland. Previous well-funded GOP challengers have failed to oust Wu, but Republicans might turn to state Sen. Bruce Starr.

Should Wu choose not to run for re-election at some point in the future, Democrats could look to state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a former Republican; state Sen. Brad Avakian; and Washington County Commissioner Desari Strader.

In Walden’s 2nd district seat, the Democrats have two potential candidates in mind, despite the Republican nature of the seat.

Among the potential Democratic candidates here are Westlund, the 2008 candidate for state treasurer who used to be a Republican and hails from Bend, and Baker County Commission Chairman Fred Warner.

Should Walden run for Senate in 2010, or vacate his seat in the future for some other reason, Atkinson is seen as one possible heir apparent.

In the Democratic-leaning 3rd district, the bow tie-wearing Blumenauer appears safe for as long as he chooses to hold his seat.

But if he decides to run for another office in the future — he often is mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor of Portland — look for several Democrats to battle for the right to replace him, possibly including Brown, the 2008 secretary of state candidate; Portland City Councilman Sam Adams, a frontrunner in the mayoral contest; and Portland developer and big Democratic donor John Russell.

The potential Republican field for the 3rd district appears thin. However, former state Speaker Karen Minnis, who is still serving in the Oregon Legislature, is considered a potential candidate.

In the 4th district, a DeFazio retirement might also generate a crowded Democratic primary to replace him. DeFazio consistently wins his seat by significant margins, despite the fact that it is competitive as drawn.

Among the Democrats who could be eyeing the seat should DeFazio move on are Castillo, the superintendent of public instruction; state Sen. Floyd Prozanski; and Tony Corcoran, a former state Senator who models himself after DeFazio.

The Republican field in the 4th district is thin, although Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken is thought of as a solid candidate should the seat open up.

In the suburban Portland 5th district, Republicans are convinced that Hooley is vulnerable, and they have high hopes this cycle that the anti-incumbent atmosphere nationally will provide Erickson an opening. In fact, President Bush won the district in 2000 and 2004, although Hooley also won in each of those years by at least 9 points.

Should Erickson fail to take out Hooley in 2008 — he lost by 11 points in 2006 after spending $1.8 million compared with the Congresswoman’s $2 million — Republicans could look for a fresh face in the 5th district in 2010. That fresh face could be delivered in the form of state Reps. Linda Flores or Scott Bruun.

Democrats, meanwhile, also are eying the 5th district, although they would almost assuredly wait for Hooley to step aside before targeting the seat. The potential Democratic candidates include Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader and state Rep. Brian Clem, a former Wyden aide who hails from Salem, the state capital.

Republicans have been on the defensive in Oregon of late. But they say a foundation exists for the party to make a resurgence — one they hope begins with electing Smith to a third term next November.

“People assume Oregon is super liberal,” said one GOP strategist. “But the rural and suburban areas aren’t. There are a lot of Republican votes out there.”