Oregon may not be a battleground state in November, but Tuesday’s primaries feature a handful of congressional primary contests worth watching.
The Beaver State is one of five that already conducted elections entirely by mail before the coronavirus pandemic upended voting nationwide. Several states have since modified their primaries after in-person voting became more problematic. Oregon voters received ballots in the mail, and those who have not yet mailed them have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to return their ballots at various drop-off locations.
With an open House seat, a GOP-targeted district and one sitting Democrat facing a spirited primary challenge, Tuesday’s elections in Oregon provide some intrigue in the battle for the House.
Here are three things to watch:
1. Outside influence in GOP primary
The Republican primary to replace retiring GOP Rep. Greg Walden in the rural 2nd District has attracted more than $1 million in outside spending, since the winner is likely to come to Congress. President Donald Trump carried the district, which covers two-thirds of the state, by 20 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.
Walden’s retirement drew a crowded field of 11 Republicans, but four candidates have emerged as the top contenders: former state Rep. Knute Buehler, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018; businessman Jimmy Crumpacker; and former state Sens. Cliff Bentz and Jason Atkinson.
Most of the outside spending has been focused on attacking Buehler for statements he made in his bid to be governor of reliably blue Oregon. Buehler said he supports abortion rights, criticized Trump, and called on the president to withdraw Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court after Christine Blasey Ford accused the future justice of sexual assault.
The anti-tax Club for Growth has spent $213,000 against Buehler so far, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Oregon Right to Life and Right to Life/Oregon PAC have spent a combined $207,000 against him. Oregon Right to Life has endorsed Crumpacker, and both groups have spent $36,000 supporting the businessman.
Buehler has been bolstered by an outside group known as Republican Leadership for Oregon, which is backed by Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The group has spent $175,000 supporting Buehler and $168,000 against the other three top candidates.
Defending Main Street, the political arm of the Republican Main Street Partnership, has spent $225,000 backing Bentz. The group bills itself as the governing wing of the GOP and launched a television ad in which the narrator said Bentz would stand with Trump “to take on the liberals who put our future in China’s hands.”
Bentz, a lawyer and farmer, resigned from the state Senate to run for Congress full-time. He was among a group of GOP state senators who staged a walkout in the Legislature last year to prevent action on a climate change bill. Bentz went to Idaho to avoid Oregon State Police, according to The Oregonian.
2. Veteran who disarmed terrorist seeks DeFazio seat
The National Republican Congressional Committee listed Rep. Peter A. DeFazio as one of its initial 2020 targets, although the 17-term Democrat has won reelection easily since his first race in 1986. But Republicans believe the coastal 4th District is moving in their direction. In 2016, Trump narrowly lost it by less than two-tenths of a percentage point.
The top GOP candidate to take on DeFazio is Afghanistan veteran Alek Skarlatos. The National Guardsman received global attention in 2015 when he and two friends helped disarm a terrorist on a Paris-bound train. Skarlatos went on to star in a film about the ordeal, and he appeared on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” He lost a close race for Douglas County commissioner in 2018.
One other Republican is running to take on DeFazio, but he has not raised enough to warrant filing a campaign finance report. According to FEC documents, Skarlatos has raised $490,000 and his campaign had nearly $109,000 on hand on April 29, the end of the pre-primary campaign finance reporting period. His campaign received a donation from Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton’s leadership PAC.
DeFazio, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has a financial advantage, with nearly $1.6 million in his campaign account. The longtime congressman also questioned Skarlatos’ qualifications, saying last year, “He’s a hero, that’s great. And he came in third in ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ That’s about the end of his credentials to be a member of Congress. There’s a lot more to the job.”
Inside Elections rates the 4th District race Solid Democratic.
3. Schrader faces primary challenge
Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader is facing a spirited primary challenge from Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba in the 5th District, which includes suburbs south of Portland.
Gamba supports liberal policies including “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal. He’s tried to capitalize on progressive angst over Schrader, who is a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. Schrader also runs the group’s PAC.
Gamba has raised $223,000 in his primary bid, and he had $29,000 in bank at April 29. Schrader had more than $3 million.
Schrader, who won a sixth term by 13 points in 2018, has been known to buck his party, including voting Friday against the $3 trillion Democratic coronavirus relief package.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary is expected to carry the seat in November. Hillary Clinton won the district by 4 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic.