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Oregon Race to Replace David Wu Next Special to Watch

What happened in New York’s 9th district Tuesday likely won’t be re-created across the country in coastal Oregon’s 1st district, which is strongly Democratic and next in line for a special election.

But in this political environment, no one is feeling comfortable, and that includes the Democrats running for this seat. The race forces the party to hold yet another seat vacated by a Member who resigned in scandal, and the campaigns — already in full swing — took notice of Tuesday’s Democratic drubbing.

The stunning defeat in a favorable district was used Wednesday in a fundraising solicitation by Republican candidate Rob Cornilles, and it has ensured that the eventual Democratic nominee in the race to succeed ex-Rep. David Wu won’t take the Jan. 31, 2012, special election lightly. Roll Call rates the race as Likely Democratic.

“There are plenty of reasons for what happened in New York 9 that are not broadly applicable here,” one Oregon Democratic consultant said. “But having said that, we are in a pretty cranky and volatile electorate on the broad strokes as well as in the specifics of the district. So it certainly amps up the significance of that national attention as much as anything in Oregon 1.”

Jake Weigler, a consultant for Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, a Democratic candidate, said Tuesday’s results were “a good reminder that this will likely be a competitive general election.”

“There’s some specific foreign policy dynamics for the New York race that probably aren’t as applicable here,” Weigler said. “But the lesson we’re taking is that it’s important for our candidate to define himself and not run simply as a surrogate for the president.”

Ties to President Barack Obama hurt the Democratic nominees in both the New York and Nevada specials Tuesday. Obama’s approval rating in both districts was well below 50 percent. And like Nevada, Oregon has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Salem-based GOP consultant Chuck Adams said recent statewide polling he’s conducted has found voters’ anger to be the highest he’s seen in 30 years. Still, as high a Democratic registration advantage as there is in the Brooklyn- and Queens-based New York district, this Portland-area district has seen better Democratic performance. Obama won it by 25 points in 2008, compared with an 11-point win in New York’s 9th district.

The media market is also far more affordable, and the state’s mail-in voting changes the dynamic of voter turnout.

“It is a very tough district for Republicans to win, generally speaking, by the numbers and demographics,” Adams said. “But then, what’s tougher than New York? So there has got to be some hope for the Cornilles campaign after watching [Tuesday] night’s result.”

Democratic consultant Jim Ross said unemployment and Obama’s unpopularity are issues in every district, but comparing the two races “is like comparing the Columbia River to the Hudson.” One big difference, he said, is candidate quality, an intensified attribute in special election sprints.

“Oregon 1 has a better group of Democratic candidates who have been elected and supported by the core of the district for years,” Ross said. “These are skilled campaigners that won’t make the gaffes on the budget deficit or other issues.”

Eight Democrats filed to run in the Nov. 8 primary, including Avakian, state Rep. Brad Witt and state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici. Five Republicans, including Cornilles, who lost to Wu by 13 points last year, will vie for the GOP nomination, followed by a nearly three-month general election campaign.

The Cornilles campaign wants to make a connection between the New York and Oregon specials and did so in a Wednesday fundraising email. The solicitation noted that both districts lean Democratic and were vacated “after the incumbent was forced to resign under a cloud of controversy.”

“YOU can make it happen here, too, in the Special Election to replace U.S. Representative David Wu … but I need your help!” Cornilles wrote.

The head of the state Democratic Party remained confident.

“We’re continuing down the same strategy and not going to change on our end at all,” said Trent Lutz, executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party. “We really see Oregon as a very different place from New York or anywhere else.”

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