Democrat apparently flips Bend-area Oregon House seat
BEND — Democrat Emerson Levy held a narrow but growing lead in Oregon House District 53 early Thursday as the deadline passed for new votes to be counted.
Levy held a 412-vote lead over Republican Michael Sipe as of 1 a.m., out of 37,891 cast. Levy was winning 50.5% to 49.4%.
Levy had led by just 278 votes as late as early Wednesday, but an updated report from the Deschutes County Clerk's office pushed the narrow margin higher.
Levy was named the winner on Wednesday afternoon by The Oregonian, which has an election analysis desk that measures returns, previous voting patterns and turnout.
Oregon Democrats issued statements late Wednesday congratulating Levy for her apparent victory.
Levy also embraced the Oregonian's projection.
"We are feeling like we have won this race," Levy said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
Sipe did not return a request for comment Wednesday from The Bulletin in Bend. He has not conceded or spoken publicly as of Wednesday afternoon.
Under Oregon election law, an automatic recount would only be ordered if the difference between the top two candidates came within .002 of the their total combined votes. That would currently mean Sipe would have to be 76 votes or less behind Levy.
Sipe and his backers can request a recount, but would have to pay for the process unless the recount resulted in a Sipe victory.
The Oregonian's election calls have all been correct so far. The Associated Press, which projected winners for Oregon's federal and statewide offices, does not call winners in legislative races.
Levy's apparent victory would give Democrats a second long-held Republican House seat in Deschutes County. Levy would succeed Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, who opted not to seek re-election.
Democrats won the neighboring House District 54 in 2020 when Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, flipped a seat that had been held by a series of moderate Republicans for a decade despite a Democratic voter-registration edge.
Levy received victory messages from the Oregon Democratic Party, and FuturePAC, the financial arm for House Democrats. She was also congratulated by the Independent Party of Oregon, which had cross-nominated her in the race.
Levy sought to praise Sipe, despite an often bitter battle between the two candidates.
"I want to acknowledge and appreciate the hard work of my opponent, Michael Sipe," Levy said Wednesday. "I know that while we offered voters different visions for the future, we both share a deep love of this community and a passion for serving it.
Results of Oregon's elections are not final until certified by the Oregon Secretary of State on Dec. 5.
Since Election Day on Nov. 8, the Deschutes County Clerk's office said Wednesday it had received over 4,800 new ballots in the mail, which went into Wednesday's updated count.
Both Levy and Sipe live in northern Bend, though the district's largest footprint is in Redmond.
Central Oregon had seen major growth in the past decade, and under redistricting based on the 2020 U.S. Census was bound to have more, but geographically smaller, political districts.
Under a redistricting plan approved by the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown, House District 53 was compacted into the northern portion of Deschutes County, with the areas south of Deschutes River Woods - including Sunriver - placed in House District 55, which stretched to the California border. That district was won by Rep. E. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls.
Levy ran in the old House District 53 in 2020, losing to Zika.
The new House District 53 has a slight Democratic majority on paper. Levy would be the first Democrat - and first woman - to hold the seat in at least two decades.
Levy would be part of a smaller Democratic majority, according to race results so far. Democrats are projected to have a 35-25 edge in the House, down from 37-23 in the current House.
The drop in Democrats would put them below the three-fifths mark that allowed the party to pass taxes and other financial legislation without Republican support.
Levy attended a new member orientation held by the House Democrats on Wednesday. As part of the program, the caucus voted to nominate House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, for the same position in the new House that will meet beginning in January.
All members of the House vote for the position, but the majority party's nominee is the expected winner.
House Republicans will be led by Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, who is the current minority leader.
In a meeting Wednesday in Albany, the Oregon Republican Senate Caucus reelected Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, as minority leader.
Democrats have a 16-vote majority in the 30-member Senate, with one race still undecided. Republicans are guaranteed to keep Democrats under the 18-vote supermajority they held in the current session.
Anna Kaminski covers government and politics for The Bend Bulletin, a partner in the Oregon Capital Bureau, a news partner of the Pamplin Media Group. Gary A. Warner is a political reporter for the Oregon Capital Bureau.
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