Longtime Democrat’s retirement opens race for Oregon House

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PORTLAND, Oregon. – The retirement of Oregon’s longest-serving congressman, Democratic U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, created an open seat in the state’s sprawling 4th district in the western part of the state.

While Republicans hope to win the district that spans the south and central coasts, analysts say it could prove difficult. The 4th includes rural and conservative areas, but also the more populated and liberal college towns of Eugene and Corvallis.

Voters in the 4th haven’t elected a Republican to the U.S. House since 1972. New borders drawn after the 2020 redistricting round set it up to be safer for Democrats. And the issue of abortion following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June energized Democratic voters.

While it’s “conceivable” that Republicans could topple the district for the first time in 50 years, that would be overkill, said pollster John Horvick, senior vice president of DHM Research.

“If Val Hoyle lost this district, she would lose it in a real Republican wave,” Horvick said, referring to the Democratic nominee. “This is a district, at least in 2022, that Democrats should really win.”

Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle is running to keep the blue seat after the retirement of DeFazio, who was first elected to the seat in 1986. Hoyle served as a Democrat in the State House of 2009 to 2017, including three years as Majority Leader. The state legislative district that elected her, which includes parts of the college town of Eugene and rural areas northwest of it, is in Oregon’s 4th congressional district.

Republican Alek Skarlatos is running his second campaign for the seat. The former member of the Oregon National Guard rose to prominence in 2015 after he foiled an attack by a heavily armed gunman on a train bound for Paris. The dramatic and heroic action was made into a movie by Clint Eastwood in which Skarlatos played himself.

Skarlatos narrowly lost to DeFazio in 2020 in the closest race to the seat in 30 years. DeFazio won by five percentage points with just 51.5% of the vote, the lowest finish of his congressional career. But this was within the old neighborhood boundaries; the new maps made it less competitive for Republicans, analysts said.

However, the GOP has always invested in the district. The House Republican-linked super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, announced $700,000 in new ad spending there in early October, just over a month before Election Day.

In addition to inflation concerns, Republicans are looking to take advantage of low approval ratings for President Biden and Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

“If a Republican were to win this district, it would be in a year like 2022, where Kate Brown and the Democrats are hurting at the state level, and then Biden and the Democrats are hurting a bit nationally,” Neil O’Brian said. , assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon. “But it has the potential to be less competitive than in previous years because of this redistricting.”

Both candidates will have to woo independent voters. There are more unaffiliated voters than Democrats and Republicans in the district, though they outnumber Democrats by a much slimmer margin. More than 173,000 unaffiliated voters are registered there, compared to about 172,000 Democrats and 131,000 Republicans, according to the latest figures from the Oregon secretary of state.

Largely following their national party playbooks this midterm cycle, Hoyle campaigned on his pro-abortion stance while Skarlatos focused on inflation. Reproductive health care is the top priority listed on Hoyle’s website; Skarlatos does not mention it on his.

Hoyle said she doesn’t think her support for abortion, which remains legal in Oregon, will hurt her with independent and conservative voters in the district, pointing to her previous State House run. She told The Associated Press that she discussed her own experience of pregnancy loss during the campaign trail.

“I’m talking about it,” Hoyle told AP in a phone interview. “Whether I’m in a conservative area, whether I’m in a rural area, I share a bit of my experience.”

Skarlatos’ campaign did not respond to AP interview requests. He has been backed by anti-abortion groups, but he recently told local Oregon media that he would not support a nationwide ban on abortion.

“Republicans can’t have it both ways,” he told KVAL. “We can’t say it should be a state matter because it’s not in the Constitution, but then vote to outlaw it at the federal level.”

Democrats are betting on abortion, which remains the main motivation for voters, despite stubbornly high inflation and a slight rise in gas prices. But there are signs the party doesn’t necessarily view the siege as a slam dunk.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee nominated Hoyle to its “Red to Blue” program which seeks to reverse the seats, although the district is not held by a Republican.

The Republican National Congressional Committee, meanwhile, named Skarlatos one of its “young guns,” and the candidate received more than $63,000 from Take Back the House, the House Chief’s joint fundraising committee. minority in the House, Kevin McCarthy.

So far, Skarlatos has edged out his Democratic opponent. Latest campaign documents show he raised $3.6 million, nearly double Hoyle’s $1.9 million.

Rush is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow her on Twitter: @ClaireARush

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