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'Campaigns have a lot of money and they can do it,' observer says of spending spree.

Portland commercial television is awash with wall-to-wall ads for state legislative candidates, even though the regional market — 25th largest in the nation, extending south through the Willamette Valley, west to the coast and east across the Cascades — far exceeds any single district.

Many of the ads do not even mention the districts in question.

Political observer Jim Moore, who teaches at Pacific University in Forest Grove, says there are reasons for the broadcast onslaught.

"I think it speaks to the fact that the campaigns have a lot of money, and they can do it," Moore said. "It's just stunning. Some of them do not even name the district or the party, and some of them are just weird — they just say vote 'no' on the candidate."

Moore said he is having students in a class look at 17 negative broadcast ads. Usually legislative candidates target voters via cable TV, direct mail and internet ads.

"It also says that for all people talk about social media and targeted advertising, still nothing beats television to get to a whole lot of voters in a high-turnout election," he said.

Many of the legislative ads barely touch on state issues.

Democratic-sponsored ads often go after Republican candidates on the basis of whether they support President Donald Trump, who lost Oregon's electoral votes in 2016 and is likely to do so again.

Republican-sponsored ads often seek to link Democratic legislative candidates with Gov. Kate Brown — who is not on the ballot and cannot run again in 2022 — plus her stay-at-home pandemic orders and the ongoing protests against police and for racial justice in Portland.

All 60 House seats are up in Tuesday's election, and 16 of the 30 Senate seats, one of them for a two-year unexpired term.

Despite the lavish spending, Moore said the partisan makeup of the 2021 Legislature is unlikely to change dramatically as a result of Tuesday's election.

Democrats are likely to hold on to their majorities, which they have been building during the past decade. They may or may not hold on to the 60% majorities required by the Oregon Constitution to pass revenue-raising measures. They had them in 2009-10, and they currently have them.

"Odds are that Democrats keep their supermajority in the House, but at the bare minimum of 36," Moore said. "I think the Senate will be a wash," although Democrats could lose one net seat.

But Democrats are unlikely to win the two extra seats in each chamber that would give them the two-thirds majorities (40 in the House, 20 in the Senate) required by the Constitution to do business unchallenged. Republicans walked out twice in 2019 and once in 2020 to thwart tax and climate-change legislation advocated by Democrats. (The tax legislation eventually passed, but only after Democrats agreed to drop some other priorities.)

Senate Democrats now hold 18 seats, Republicans 12. Both parties have reached 20, Democrats in 1991 and Republicans in 1997.

House Democrats now hold 38 seats — matching their peak since 1975 — and Republicans 22. Neither party has reached 40 since the early 1950s, when Republicans held 49 seats in 1953.

Oregon state legislators make $31,200 annually, plus $149 per session day, which includes committee meetings between full sessions. The salary is doubled for the two presiding officers.

New faces guaranteed

The Senate will have at least four new faces. Democrats Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham and Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay are retiring, and Democrat Mark Hass of Beaverton gave up his seat in a losing primary bid for secretary of state. Republican Herman Baertschiger of Grants Pass was elected a Josephine County commissioner.

If Democrat Shemia Fagan of Portland or Republican Kim Thatcher of Keizer is elected secretary of state, an appointee from the same party will fill the two years remaining in the term. The loser will retain her Senate seat because the candidates are running in mid-term.

At the start of the decade, the Senate was split with 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans, and remained that way for two election cycles. Democrat Chuck Riley unseated Republican Bruce Starr in 2014 for the District 15 seat, and Democrat Jeff Golden of Ashland won an open Southern Oregon seat in 2018.

Of the three highly contested Senate seats listed below, the average raised by each of the major-party nominees averaged $1 million as of Oct. 28. Only one of the six candidates is well below that average.

The House will have at least 11 new faces.

Departing Democrats are Jeff Barker of Aloha, Margaret Doherty of Tigard, Chris Gorsek of Troutdale (a Senate candidate), Alissa Keny-Guyer of Portland, Akasha Lawrence Spence of Portland, Caddy McKeown of Coos Bay, Tiffiny Mitchell of Astoria and Carla Piluso of Gresham.

Departing Republicans are Greg Barreto of Cove; Sherrie Sprenger of Scio, a candidate for Linn County commissioner, and Carl Wilson of Grants Pass.

At the start of the decade, Democrats and Republicans were tied 30-30, the first ever for the House. Democrats in 2012 then ousted one-term Republicans from four districts in the east and west metro suburbs and have not looked back since.

Republicans are going after the four Democrats who unseated GOP incumbents in 2014 and 2018 and increased the Democratic majority from 34 to 38 seats. They also are going after two open seats long held by Democrats on the coast.

Democrats in turn are going after a Republican incumbent in a Bend-area seat with a Democratic registration edge, and an appointed Republican incumbent in the Salem area.

Of eight highly contested House seats listed below — excluding the special circumstances in House District 47 — the average raised by each of the major-party candidates is $500,000. The per-candidate amounts vary widely, from $122,000 to almost $1 million. In four of the eight races, the candidates together have raised $1 million or more — up to $1.8 million.

One contest will not affect the party ratios in the House. But Democratic Rep. Diego Hernandez faces a challenge from Ashton Simpson, who is seeking to become the first third-party candidate in recent years to win a legislative seat. House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, has called on Hernandez to resign after he came under a House investigation that has still not concluded after six months. Some legislators have backed Hernandez, who has held his East Portland seat for four years; one legislator and one legislative candidate have given money to Simpson, who is on the ballot as the Working Families nominee.

Although party registration has been a good indicator in the past of how a district leans, Oregon's long-developing surge of voters who choose not to affiliate with any party has scrambled that premise. In many districts, nonaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans and Democrats.

"But they are still doing what they have been doing for the past several election cycles," Moore said. Such voters have had far lower participation rates than those registered with the major parties.

Below are recaps of key legislative races. Registrations are as of September. Totals do not add to 100% because of minor parties.


District 5 (South and central coast, from Coos Bay to Tillamook): Democratic, 30.8%; Republican 27.5%; nonaffiliated, 34.8%. Open seat vacated by Democrat Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay after two terms. Candidates: Democrat Melissa Cribbins of Coos Bay, lawyer and county commissioner, also Independent and Working Families nominee; Republican Dick Anderson of Lincoln City, retired; Pacific Party nominee Shauleen Higgins of Lakeside, city councilor. The question is whether Republicans can win this seat for the first time since 2004; district boundaries have extended north to take in more Democratic-leaning areas.

District 10 (South and West Salem; part of Polk County): Democratic, 31.5%; Republican, 30.1%; nonaffiliated, 31.8%. Candidates for two-year term: Republican appointee Denyc Boles of Salem, who works in community relations at Salem Health; Democrat Deb Patterson of Salem, pastor at Smyrna United Church of Christ in Canby, also Working Families nominee; Libertarian Taylor Rickey of West Salem, stay-at-home father. Boles succeeded Jackie Winters, a Republican from Salem who held the seat from 2003 until her death from cancer in 2019. Winters defeated Patterson, 54% to 46%, in 2018. The winner completes Winters' term and this seat would be up again for election in 2022.

District 27 (Bend and surrounding area): Democratic, 33%; Republican, 28%; nonaffiliated, 31.3%. Candidates: Republican incumbent Tim Knopp of Bend, executive vice president of the Central Oregon Builders Association, also Independent nominee; Democrat Eileen Kiely of Sunriver, retired Daimler Truck North America executive, also Working Families nominee. Knopp faces a tough challenge from Kiely in a district whose registration has tilted from Republican to Democratic, largely because of population growth in the city of Bend. Knopp is a two-term incumbent who also was in the Oregon House from 1999 to 2005, including a stint as majority leader.


District 9 (South coast, from Coos Bay to Lincoln County): Democratic, 29%; Republican, 30%; nonaffiliated, 33.9%. Open seat vacated by Caddy McKeown of Coos Bay after four terms. Candidates: Democrat Cal Mukumoto of Coos Bay, management consultant, also Working Families nominee; Republican Gerald "Boomer" Wright of Reedsport, retired Mapleton school superintendent, also Libertarian nominee. Wright represents the best hope Republicans have had to win a seat long held by Democrats.

District 19 (South Salem, Aumsville and Turner): Democratic, 29.3%; Republican, 31.8%; nonaffiliated, 32.4%. Candidates: Republican appointee Raquel Moore-Green of Salem, consultant; Democrat Jackie Leung of Salem, nonprofit executive director, public health advocate and Salem city counselor, also Progressive and Working Families nominee. Democrats think Leung has a shot at a seat long held by Republicans; Moore-Green was appointed after incumbent Denyc Boles moved to the Senate.

District 20 (South and West Salem; part of Polk County): Democratic, 33.8%; Republican, 28.4%; nonaffiliated, 31.1%. Candidates: Democratic incumbent Paul Evans of Monmouth, community college instructor and communications consultant, also Working Families nominee; Republican Selma Pierce of Salem, retired dentist, also Independent nominee. This is a rematch of the 2018 contest won by Evans, 53.4% to 46.3%. Evans has steadily increased his margins since 2014, when he won this open seat vacated by a Republican.

District 26 (Wilsonville, Sherwood, parts of Clackamas, Washington and Yamhill counties): Democratic, 33.9%; Republican, 28%; nonaffiliated 31.7%. Candidates: Democratic incumbent Courtney Neron of Wilsonville, teacher, also Working Families nominee; Republican Peggy Stevens of Sherwood, retired owner of PK Properties; Libertarian Tim Nelson of Wilsonville, culinary operations manager. Neron unseated one-term Republican Rich Vial of Scholls two years ago in one of the few metro-area districts held by a Republican; Stevens hopes to do the same to Neron, who was her party's replacement in 2018 after the original nominee dropped out.

District 32 (North coast, also part of western Washington County): Democratic, 32.7%; Republican, 27.2%; nonaffiliated, 33.6%. Open seat vacated by Democrat Tiffiny Mitchell of Astoria after one term. Candidates: Democrat Debbie Boothe-Schmidt of Warrenton, trial assistant for the Clatsop County district attorney's office, also Working Families nominee; Republican Suzanne Weber of Tillamook, mayor, also Independent and Libertarian nominee. Weber is the best hope Republicans have of wresting this long-held Democratic seat. (Debbie Boothe-Schmidt should not be confused with Debbie Boone, a Democrat from Cannon Beach who held the seat from 2004 until 2019.)

District 37 (Tualatin, West Linn): Democratic, 38.2%; Republican, 27.1% nonaffiliated, 28.2%. Candidates: Democratic incumbent Rachel Prusak of West Linn, nurse, also Working Families nominee; Republican Kelly Sloop of West Linn, pharmacist, also Libertarian nominee. Prusak unseated four-term Republican Julie Parrish of West Linn two years ago in one of the few metro-area districts held by a Republican, going back to the 1980s; Sloop hopes to do the same to Prusak.

District 47 (East Portland): Democratic, 41.8%; Republican, 15.2%; nonaffiliated, 36.7%. Candidates: Democratic incumbent Diego Hernandez; Republican Ryan Gardner; Working Families nominee Ashton Simpson. This race is between two candidates. Hernandez is a two-term incumbent who faces a legislative investigation into sexual-harassment allegations that is still unresolved after six months; seven legislators have contributed to his re-election campaign. Simpson has raised more than twice as much as Hernandez in a bid to become the first third-party candidate in recent times to win a legislative seat. (A couple have won as nonaffiliated candidates, although both eventually signed up with the major parties.) Simpson has received money from Democratic Rep. Rob Nosse, Democratic House candidate Dacia Grayber of Portland, Local 555 of United Food and Commercial Workers, and the NARAL Pro-Choice and Oregon Nurse political action committees.

District 52 (Hood River; parts of Multnomah and Clackamas counties): Democratic, 32.6%; Republican, 28.1%; nonaffiliated, 32.5%. Candidates: Democratic incumbent Anna Williams of Hood River, academic adviser and adjunct faculty for online college program, also Working Families nominee; Republican Jeff Helfrich of Hood River, project manager at Hood Tech Aero and retired Portland police sergeant; Libertarian Stephen Alder of Sandy, maintenance supervisor at Garden Highway Foods in Clackamas. This is a rematch of 2018, when Helfrich, then the appointed incumbent, lost to Williams in a district increasingly leaning to Democrats — at least the Hood River portion.

District 54 (Bend): Democratic, 38.3%; Republican, 22.5%; nonaffiliated, 31.5%. Candidates: Republican incumbent Cheri Helt of Bend, small-business owner, also Independent and Libertarian nominee; Democrat Jason Kropf of Bend, a deputy district attorney in Deschutes County, also Working Families nominee. Helt won two years ago over Democratic and Working Families nominees who faced personal controversies — she succeeded Republican Knute Buehler, who vacated the seat in a losing bid for governor — but Democrats feel the registration edge should make the seat theirs.

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NOTE: Adds links to some related Pamplin Media Group stories. See below.

Also: Adds totals raised by Democratic and Republicans in key Senate and House races, excluding House District 47.

Related stories:

House District 26:

Courtney Neron:

Peggy Stevens:

House District 37:

Rachel Prusak:

Kelly Sloop:

House District 47:

House District 52:

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