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Bynum’s primary win boosts Democrats’ chances to flip Oregon seat

But Republican Chavez-DeRemer starts with big cash lead in Toss-up race

Janelle Bynum
Oregon Democratic House candidate Janelle Bynum, second from right, meets with supporters. (Matt Roth/courtesy Bynum for Congress)

ANALYSIS — Democratic strategists scored a big primary victory in Oregon on Tuesday in what’s close to a must-win district in November. 

State Rep. Janelle Bynum defeated 2022 nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner 69 percent to 31 percent, with 74 percent of the estimated vote counted, in the Democratic primary in Oregon’s 5th District.

“It was very, very, very important,” former Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader said about the primary result. “It gives Democrats a chance of winning the 5th District of Oregon back.”

The Democratic establishments in D.C. and the Beaver State lost faith in McLeod-Skinner after she knocked off Schrader in the 2022 primary and subsequently lost to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the general election. So they rallied behind Bynum to keep McLeod-Skinner from becoming the nominee once again.

It appears that Republicans understood the importance of the primary as well after an outside group with connections to GOP operatives spent $550,000 on TV ads, attempting to boost McLeod-Skinner. 

“Democratic voters finally woke up and figured out winning was important. And they figured out Janelle was the best person to take on DeRemer,” Schrader said in an interview Tuesday night. 

Democratic strategists convinced themselves that McLeod-Skinner’s liberal reputation was a certain loser in the swing district, and they fell in love with Bynum’s electoral track record. She defeated Chavez-DeRemer in state legislative elections in 2016 and 2018. 

Oregon’s 5th District stretches from the Portland suburbs and part of the Willamette Valley east of Interstate 5, across the mountains to include some of fast-growing central Oregon. President Joe Biden won the district with 53 percent in 2020, and Republican Christine Drazan won it with 47 percent in the 2022 gubernatorial election. Now, it’s one of the 10 districts rated as a Toss-up by Inside Elections

Democrats need a net gain of four seats nationwide to take the House majority and likely need to win nine of the 10 Toss-up races, including Oregon’s 5th, to reach their goal. 

It won’t be easy. Chavez-DeRemer had $1.9 million in her campaign account on May 1, and Democrats are shouldering the blame for crime and homelessness in nearby Portland. The Republican playbook focused on Bynum’s record in the state capital is not a surprise.

“In Salem, Prison Break Bynum built an extensive record as an extremist hellbent on emptying prisons, decriminalizing fentanyl and unleashing criminals,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ben Petersen said in a statement, telegraphing the GOP messaging over the next five months.

Schrader sees how Bynum can overcome it, however.

“She has to tack back a little bit, portray herself not quite as left but more left of center like she is,” Schrader said. “She should play up her business credentials. And she’ll have to work hard to show she’s not part of that Portland dysfunction.”

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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