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MailTribune.com
  • Long odds, short money

    U.S. Rep. Greg Walden's fundraising efforts make his challenger's task a steeper climb
  • At the end of September, Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden had $1,489,759 in his campaign war chest to be re-elected to Oregon's 2nd Congressional District seat in the Nov. 6 election.
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  • At the end of September, Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden had $1,489,759 in his campaign war chest to be re-elected to Oregon's 2nd Congressional District seat in the Nov. 6 election.
    That compares to $973 in cash on hand for Democratic challenger Joyce Segers of Ashland, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
    Walden, a 14-year congressional veteran, handily won the race two years ago against Segers, garnering 74 percent of the vote.
    Yet in spite of his huge win, he has continued raising money and spending it on advertising throughout the vast district.
    "I know it is an enormous amount of money sitting there; but, on the other hand, I have to guard against somebody coming in," he said. "I'm a peace-through-strength guy. It works for our country's security, and I believe in it for my campaign security as well."
    Walden, 55, said an incumbent can't afford to underestimate any opponent.
    "I never have taken an opponent for granted and I never will," he said. "And especially in this era of super PACs (political action committees) with unlimited money that can come into congressional races now.
    "It is no longer about your opponent and your opponent's strengths or weaknesses," he added. "You have to be on guard, be strong and not get ambushed."
    Segers, 63, former owner of a medical-billing business, acknowledged she is a long shot. But she countered that the campaign is about more than money.
    "We don't have a war chest," she said. "But we never expected this race to be about money. This is about a grassroots effort, about traveling and talking to people about what's going on in the district.
    "We made a decision to limit donations to $500. We wanted to take a stand," she said, while noting that the funding difference makes it much more challenging.
    "It's an uphill battle if you run and don't have the money the other person has," she said. "It's unfair you have to have a lot of money to be viable. But whether you are the incumbent or somebody coming in who is taking that PAC money, you are not representing who the people are in this country. I don't care who the PAC is."
    Walden has received $1.46 million from political action committees during this election, representing 60 percent of his total contributions. Segers has had no PAC contributions.
    Walden said PAC money carries no more gravitas than contributions from individuals.
    "When it comes to all contributions, all I owe anybody is a 'thank you' — that's it," he said.
    "I have organizations that have given to me in some cycles who I have later voted against," he added. "And they have turned and gone the other direction in the next cycle and started giving against me. They said, 'We're not supporting you anymore.' "
    Walden said PACs help both incumbents and challengers across the nation, depending on whose views they support.
    "It is the law of the land," he said of the ability of PACs to contribute. "We have to operate under it. If you want to get to a full disclosure system where everything is disclosed for everybody, that may be a better approach.
    "But right now, this is what we operate under, what both sides are operating under," he added.
    The 2nd Congressional District race mirrors the majority of other U.S. House races in Oregon, said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University and director of the Tom McCall Center of Policy Innovation at the school.
    "We find the same thing in the 1st Congressional District, and it always is that way in the 3rd and 5th districts," he said. "And it is not just in Oregon. It is pretty common across the country where you have strong incumbents and not strong opposition."
    Recent court rulings have nothing to do with the financial impact on Oregon's congressional races, he said, noting that super PACs haven't played a role in the state's races.
    "It's really a function of the candidates, and whether or not they can raise money," he said.
    Noting the 2nd District is by far the largest in the state on a geographic scale, Moore said it costs a lot to campaign in the vast district that includes the eastern half of the state as well as Jackson and a portion of Josephine counties.
    "When you look at the 2nd, the media markets are so scattered," he said. "Walden has even had to buy ads in the Portland market in order to get to his hometown of Hood River."
    Walden donors contacted by the Mail Tribune said they gave to his campaign because they want to ensure the work he is doing in Congress continues.
    The Oregon Farm Bureau Federation Federal PAC has given his campaign a total of $6,029 in four different contributions, according to FEC records. The contributions included $4,000 in cash, with the remainder including facility use and food and beverages for events.
    "We support those who support us," said Katie Fast, director of governmental affairs for the Salem-based bureau. "He works hard for family farms and ranches. And he does an outstanding job in getting out to rural communities and speaking to folks about issues affecting them."
    Among individuals contributing to Walden's re-election was Jerry Evans, owner of the Jacksonville Inn. Evans, one of 207 individual donors in Jackson County, contributed $200 to the incumbent's 2012 campaign.
    "He doesn't have 'Potomac fever' — he hasn't forgotten where his roots are," said Evans, who came to know Walden while lobbying Congress as a representative of a restaurant association.
    "He is very approachable and helpful to his constituents," he added. "I appreciate the fact he is not a phony, that he is fiscally responsible."
    Phoenix resident Mark Kellenbeck, who contributed $500 to the Segers campaign, said he had been a longtime supporter of Walden but felt the incumbent had gone over to the far right.
    "Basically, his opposition to all things progressive has turned my interest elsewhere," Kellenbeck said. "And he has been non-responsive to those who don't agree with him.
    "Joyce's resume is not as strong, but she has matured as a candidate and has the potential to be a good congresswoman," he added. "Her policy positions are great."
    Segers said she is making inroads in the congressional race.
    "We've put about 19,000 miles on the car with almost another month to go," she said. "We've been all around the district. We are also running a social media campaign."
    Tops on her agenda are protection of Medicare and Social Security, maintaining rights and programs for veterans and women, creating jobs in the small-business sector, supporting veterans, and reforming the banking industry, she said.
    "I think people are more aware of what is going on this time around," she said. "I have name recognition now. Without name recognition last time, I still got 72,000 votes.
    "I've learned a lot as far as talking to people," she added. "A campaign doesn't have to be about money."
    Walden said he routinely travels throughout the district, visiting each county at least twice a year.
    And he doesn't apologize for having the financial support for campaigning.
    "It costs a lot to run a campaign," he said. "I always advertise during my campaign. And I always do it pretty aggressively. Newspaper, radio, television, direct mail — that is not inexpensive.
    "I also figure part of my duty is to explain what I've been working on to voters if I am going to ask them for their support," he added. "I do it regardless of who my opponent is or what they are able to do and the kind of support they generate."
    FEC records show Walden has spent $1,557,327 so far.
    Like Segers, Walden cited the economy as a major concern.
    "The economy still remains a very significant issue," he said. "You've got 10 to 11 percent unemployment in Jackson County and more than that in Josephine County.
    "And you've got our great resources, our forests burning up, choking our lungs and skies and people out of work. There is a solution in there somewhere."
    Walden said he has been working with Gov. John Kitzhaber and U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, all Oregon Democrats, to find a solution.
    "We are all trying to find that common ground where we can get active in our forests again while reducing the threat and destruction of wildfires," he said. "We want to improve forest health while creating jobs."
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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