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Walden's shutdown vote has fallout

Now that the smoke is clearing on the political battlefield that was the fight over the partial shutdown of the federal government, has U.S. Rep. Greg Walden been wounded politically by his "no" vote?

"It all depends on who you talk to," said the Oregon Republican from Hood River, who is chairman of the National Republican Central Committee and fifth-ranking member of the House GOP leadership team.

"I probably had 3,500 emails and calls one way and about the same the other way," he said of the argument over whether the shutdown should continue. "Everyone had strongly held views. It was intense."

He was one of 18 senators and 144 House members, all Republicans, who voted against ending the shutdown and raising the debt ceiling to prevent what many felt could had been a catastrophic default.

His vote didn't change the Club For Growth's view of the congressman. In response to a query from the Mail Tribune on Tuesday, a spokesman for the staunchly conservative group referred to Walden as a "liberal," based on his overall voting record.

And political science professor Jim Moore at Pacific University sees the "no" vote as having no long-range political impact.

Walden, who has represented Oregon's 2nd Congressional District for 14 years, said he made his decision based on his own judgment, not because of any outside political pressure or the potential for a GOP challenger popping up on his political right. His district includes all of Eastern Oregon, Jackson County and a portion of Josephine County.

"What we went through speaks to the loudness and intensity of politics today," he said. "You take in the facts and make the best decision you can, knowing it is not going to make everybody happy."

Walden, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, said he voted against "kicking the can down the road" when it came to government spending. Although noting he wasn't for the shutdown, the need for the nation to come to grips with spending had top priority, he said.

"I was sick of the mini crisis every few months," he said, noting the issue will now be revisited early next year. "My patience just ran out. I felt like we were being asked to kick the can down the road again. It didn't make sense."

The fact the Club for Growth has made noises about finding a GOP primary challenger didn't impact his decision, he said. Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum has expressed interest in running for the seat, though he did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

"No, I have no idea of where he was on the vote," Walden said of Linthicum. "You are always going to have potential opponents, right and left."

Barney Keller, the communications director for the Club for Growth, said in an email that the group evaluates candidates on their record, not just one vote.

"Greg Walden is a liberal with a long record of supporting bigger government — he voted to bail out Wall Street, to keep the spending in the Obama stimulus, and even voted against ending government subsidies for Viagra," he said.

"That's why he has a lifetime rating of 62 percent on the Club's Congressional Scorecard."

Walden shrugged off the criticism, although he seemed slightly amused by the liberal label.

"I think that would be a surprise to most people," Walden said, adding he doesn't plan to change his approach because of the group's criticism.

Moore of Pacific University has been closely watching the political clouds gather over the vast district.

"I don't think the vote will do much one way or the other — the primary is still a long way away," said Moore, a 1977 graduate of Medford Senior High School.

The vote against ending the federal shutdown certainly didn't offend the right side of his political constituency across the district, which is largely Republican, he said.

"That's what they wanted — the vote will not be a big thing," he said.

Even if the shutdown had a negative impact, a Democratic challenger still would have an uphill battle against Walden, Moore said.

"For a Democrat to win in the 2nd District now, it would take a remarkable series of events," he said.

The game-changer would have to be on the magnitude of something like the economic collapse in 2008, when then state Sen. Jeff Merkley was challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican. The Democrat won, but it took a major economic crash for voters to make the switch, Moore said.

"To do this with Walden, the Democrats would also have to have a halfway credible candidate," he said, noting that hasn't been the case in the past.

The Democratic Party of Oregon did not return a call from the Mail Tribune inquiring about potential challengers to Walden in the 2014 general election.

Walden is one of the most powerful House members from the Northwest in many years, Moore said. However, it's still a long shot for him to follow in the footsteps of the late Tom Foley from Washington, a Democrat who became Speaker of the House, he added.

"Walden is not the first in line — he is possibly four or five or six in line," Moore said of the GOP leadership behind John Boehner. "Even though (Walden) cast a vote to keep the shutdown going, he is not enough of a tea party favorite. Chances are they would want to throw out the entire leadership.

"However, he is also in kind of an ideal position," Moore added. "He is high enough to be recognized, but still low enough not to be blamed for the tactics."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Walden's shutdown vote has fallout