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2020 Election: Dems dominate Oregon's U.S. House seats

The Cascades roughly divide Oregon’s five congressional seats along party lines. To the east is one solidly Republican seat, and to the west are four held by Democrats.

Both parties claim political polarization will work in their favor for the Nov. 3 election.

Democrats expect a major turnout against President Donald Trump, who won only 39% of the state vote in 2016 and has proved unpopular in statewide polls. They say he’ll be a drag on candidates farther down the ballot.

“Trump has injected the Republican Party with some far-out ideas while stifling any discussion or debate within his own party,” said K.C. Hanson, Oregon Democratic Party chair.

Bill Currier, Oregon Republican Party chair, counters that conservatives fed up with Gov. Kate Brown’s “overreach” on COVID-19 restrictions will drive up GOP turnout.

“We have an army of people who were motivated and excited,” Currier said.

History makes the status quo an odds-on favorite when the new Congress convenes next January.

Republicans say they see opportunities. Democrats say Republicans are looking at a mirage.

CD1: GOP hope vs. Democratic reality

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton is seeking a fifth term in a seat where she’s never received less than 57% of the general election vote. Republicans note that the northwestern corner of the state includes areas that supported Trump in 2016 and where Democrats have made inroads in recent local elections.

The Cook Political Report of Washington, D.C., analyzes congressional districts for overall partisan tilt, regardless of the popularity of the individual officeholder.

CD1 rates a strong Democratic +9 rating. No Republican has won the district since 1972, and Democrats have a voter registration edge on Republicans of more than 82,000.

Bonamici has been endorsed by the Working Families Party. Her 2020 Republican opponent is entrepreneur Chris Christensen of Beaverton.

C2: New names, same district

Reapportionment has made this the Republicans’ one stronghold in Congress, a district that takes in Eastern, Central and parts of Southern Oregon.

Republicans have held the seat for 40 years. The Republican has often won with more than 70% of the vote.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, is retiring after 20 years, but Democrat Alex Spenser of Klamath Falls would need a miracle to beat GOP nominee Cliff Bentz of Ontario, a former state senator.

CD3: A liberal lock

One of the most heavily Democratic districts in the nation, the Portland-area seat has been held by Democrats since 1954.

Republican candidates have been a series of sacrificial lambs to show the GOP hasn’t disappeared from the state’s largest city. It has a Cook Report Partisan Index of Democratic +24, among the most prohibitive in the nation.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, is running for a 14th term and consistently gets 70% of the vote in the general election.

Blumenauer also has the Working Families endorsement. He is challenged by Republican Joanna Harbour of Estacada, the Pacific Green Party’s Alex C. DiBlasi of Beaverton and the Libertarian Party’s Josh Solomon of Portland.

CD 4: A hero takes on the Dean

While Democrat and Republican leaders like to talk about winning each others seats, CD4 is where they are putting their money where their mouths are. The race revolves around a terrorism war hero and the dean of Oregon’s delegation to Washington.

The Cook Political Report rates the district as “Even” among Democratic and Republican partisanship. The district includes parts of southwest Oregon that vote reliably conservative, but are often offset by more populous, liberal areas in Eugene and Corvallis.

While appearing competitive on paper, the only paper that matters in the end are ballots. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, has won 17 elections going back to 1986.

But the race has a wrinkle, a new celebrity Republican candidate.

For five straight elections, DeFazio had faced Republican Art Robinson, a retired chemist from Cave Junction. Five times, DeFazio won.

But the Republican nominee this year is Alek Skarlatos, whose candidacy has created a state and national buzz.

Skarlatos, an Afghanistan war veteran, received worldwide acclaim in 2015 when he and a group of other off-duty military men risked their lives to subdue a Moroccan terrorist who boarded a train from Amsterdam to Paris with an AK-47 and 300 rounds of ammunition.

Skarlatos and the others received the Légion d’honneur from the French. They played themselves in the Clint Eastwood-directed movie, “15:17 to Paris.”

The CD4 race is Skarlatos’ second bid for public office. He lost a tight 2018 race for Douglas County commissioner.

Skarlatos has outpaced DeFazio in fundraising, hauling in $3.7 million through September vs. $3.3 million for the congressman.

Skarlatos, 27, runs a high-energy television ad saying he “hates politics” and that DeFazio has been in office “longer than I have been alive.” He calls DeFazio a “socialist” who lives on a yacht while in Washington, D.C.

He’s tapped into the Timber Unity movement, which wants to increase tree cutting, which they say will revive the economy in the area.

Democrats in Eugene receive daily pamphlets from House Majority PAC, the political arm of Congressional Democrats, saying Skarlatos will put “Oregon Women at Risk” because he opposes the Affordable Care Act, wants to defund Planned Parenthood and when asked about a repeal of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion rights case, said opponents should “go for it” on a repeal.

Hanson, the state Democratic chair, says that Skarlatos is a hero for what he did on the train to Paris. But that’s a thin record for serving in Congress.

“The Republicans put up a candidate who has a hook, like a cheap song,” said Hanson, the state Democratic chair. “Two chords, easy to sing along.”

But some CD4 Democratic leaders say Skarlatos is a wild card after 10 years of Art Robinson’s losing bids.

“He’s charismatic, he’s young, and he has this level of celebrity behind him,” Alana Lenihan, the Democratic Party chairwoman in Douglas County, told OPB in late July. “That is going to make it more challenging.”

There are 188,586 Democrats vs. 163,956 Republicans and 187,238 nonaffiliated in the district. Nonaffiliated voters tend to vote in percentages similar to the percentages won by the two major parties.

DeFazio has been endorsed by the Independent and Working Families parties. Nursing assistant Daniel Hoffay of Cottage Grove is the Pacific Green candidate.

CD 5: Oh so close

This is another teasingly appealing district for Republicans on paper. Like CD4 to the south, CD5 is rated as “Even” between Democrats and Republicans in the Cook Partisan Index.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, was elected in 2008 and has won five more terms, but never by more than 55% of the vote.

CD5 has often seemed to be winnable for the GOP, until the votes are counted. Democrats have won every election since 1996.

Democrats have just over 27,500 more registered voters than Republicans. It’s another district where the Independent Party is a key player, with 25,738 registered voters.

Reflecting the makeup of the district, Schrader is the most conservative of the state’s Democrats in D.C. He was among a handful of House Democrats who opposed the choice of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to return as House Speaker when Democrats won back the chamber in 2018.

Businesswoman Amy Ryan Courser is the Republican candidate, and Field Service Engineer Matthew James Rix of Oregon City is the Libertarian.

2022: New lines and maybe an extra seat

This year marks the last time in a decade the current congressional districts will be in existence. Reapportionment, including a possible new sixth seat due to Oregon’s population growth, will decide new boundaries for the 2022 election.