Oregon’s 2012 US House races – after redistricting

by Brendan Monaghan

The 76th Oregon Legislative Assembly completed its first session recently, and one of their biggest achievements- aside from recognizing a State Soil- was completing redistricting on both the state and congressional levels, by themselves, for the first time since Douglas McKay was Governor.  That our maps were not subject to Brownmandering- or worse, drawn in court- is a marvel that defied all expectations and Vegas odds makers.  Many of you, of course, are wondering what these new congressional districts look like, or more importantly, who your new representative is likely to be.  With that in mind, here is a preview of Oregon’s new fabulous five congressional districts.

CD-1 (Portland-Beaverton)

Changes: Oregon’s First gives up most of heavily Democratic downtown Portland, but still retains heavily Democratic Washington County and heavily Democratic Clatsop County.  In exchange, the district gains the rest of the West Hills and keeps Northwest Portland and Columbia and Yamhill Counties.  This results in a tilt toward the Republicans, but only by a negligible amount of one or two points.  It’s certainly not what Republicans were hoping for (namely, all of Multnomah County and change becoming its own district), but probably the best they could expect.

Prospects: If gambling were legal, I would bet you that twelve-year incumbent and part-time tiger David Wu loses his primary.  Several vultures are already circling overhead, including State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, State Representative Brad Witt, and maybe State Senator Suzanne Bonamici.  Last November, Republicans nominated statistically their strongest candidate since the district was redrawn in 2002 with businessman Rob Cornilles.  If he doesn’t run again, there are three members of the Legislature from Hillsboro who could give it a go- or a candidate from the Tea Party, all of whom would be underdogs.

CD-2 (Grants Pass and the East)

Changes: Very little, especially compared with what could have changed.  In a you-can’t-be-serious, designed-to-fail plan of New Coke proportions, Democrats proposed removing the incumbent congressman’s home county from its own district and tying it in with Portland and Rainier.  When Republicans complained (and Democrats joined in on cue with The Oregonian editorial staff), the map was changed back to more or less its current shape.  The Second instead keeps everything east of the Cascades, Jackson County, and a much nicer looking semicircle surrounding Grants Pass.  The district is a deep shade of red and should stay that way.

Prospects: Greg Walden is the Congressman here, and is the only member of Oregon’s congressional delegation with anything resembling a leadership position.  His Democratic opponent is likely to be the same person it’s been since he was first elected in 1998: “That Other Guy.”  If the trends and history of this district are any indication, he’d have to do something really stupid- like lie about his military record, or something– to give it up.

CD-3 (Portland-North Clackamas)

Changes: As previously stated, Oregon’s Third could have changed dramatically, if the Democrats were actually serious about their Rainier-to-Hood River design for the district.  Instead, this plan takes away large chunks of Portland from the 1st and 5th- including most of the Southwest- and gives up much of northwest Multnomah County.  The previous boundary was the Willamette River, consistent with the Democrats’ longstanding view that “Men are from East Portland, Women are from West Portland”- and thus need separate congressmen.  To the south, the Third gives up Democrat-leaning suburbs in populated Clackamas County and trades them for Republican-leaning empty space (also in Clackamas County).  Ultimately, registration numbers should balance out to little net change.

Prospects: How safe was Congressman Earl Blumenauer last year- Republican high tide throughout the rest of the country?  Blumenauer could be seen throughout the campaign mentioning Barack Obama’s name in public and praising him.  Rather than deciding to do something else with his life (City Council, Mayor, Statewide Anything), Blumenauer has apparently made up his mind to be Portland’s Congressman for Life.  He has proven to be a skilled fundraiser for his party and has never had to spend more than about $20 in district against any opponent.  The Republican nomination is Delia Lopez’s, again, if she wants it.  If not, my advice would be to run a college student, karate teacher, or woman who doesn’t speak the district’s language, doesn’t live within its borders, has to use Google Maps to figure out where it is, and spends the whole campaign in Vegas.

CD-4 (Eugene-Corvallis)

Changes: Corvallis.  In a shocking move, the Redistricting Committee took out the solidly-Democratic college town and gave it to the Fourth, which didn’t need the help.  What was on paper a swing district (D+2) becomes, on paper, more Democratic with this surprising shift.  There are also cosmetic changes to precincts around Grants Pass in far east Josephine County.  Otherwise, the district is Southern Oregon with frontiers in Lane, Linn, and now most of Benton Counties.

Prospects: Essentially unchanged.  The Fourth was never going to be very competitive as long as Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Progressive Caucus, was running.  We may never know how, with the seat now becoming more friendly to DeFazio’s chosen successor.  On Retirement Watch for several campaigns, he nonetheless racked up a double-digit win over Republican biochemist Art Robinson.  Expect a rematch, with Robinson doing most of his campaigning in the national media- last year by making Rachel Maddow’s head explode on MSNBC and this year penning an accusation of the OSU faculty.

CD-5 (Salem-Oregon City)

Changes: While not getting everything they wanted, Republicans are still salivating as to how this one turned out.  The swinging Fifth loses its Democratic veto from Southwest Portland AND the liberal stronghold of Corvallis.  In exchange, the district gains the I-205 communities of Milwaukie and Happy Valley.  This leaves the curiously-attached coastal counties of Lincoln and Tillamook, Polk, and Marion with a sliver of Benton and the populated portions of Clackamas County.  Aside from the solid Second, this is the friendliest Republican district by far.  It would not be unreasonable to expect a change in representation in a good Republican year, particularly after last year’s near-miss.

Prospects: Freshman Congressman Kurt Schrader was thought vulnerable last year, so much so that both parties actually spent money here.  Running State Representative Scott Bruun, Republicans had high hopes of flipping the seat for the first time since the 1994 Republican Revolution.  Thanks in large part to Portland (and Corvallis), that didn’t happen.  With those cities no longer a threat, look for Republicans to try again with their A-Team yet again on the field.  The district runs though a lot of red territory, and the GOP has a deep and talented bench in this area, filled with existing elected officials.  Bruun probably has the right of first refusal, but Representative Bill Kennemer, State Senator Brian Boquist, or a pair of star candidates from Lake Oswego (who ran against each other for Governor) could run too.  A good year and a friendly district could be a perfect Republican storm.

Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State University, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program. Brendan is studying political science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.