U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici hopes to have some female colleagues in Oregon's congressional delegation as a result of the Nov. 8 election.
While the Democrat from Beaverton is expected to win a sixth full term in the 1st District of northwest Oregon, Democratic women are nominees for three Oregon open seats that could determine which party wins a majority in the U.S. House. Democrats now hold a majority by a handful of seats — but with a few exceptions, the party that holds the presidency generally loses seats in mid-term elections, going back almost a century.
"It's going to be tough because we have to buck history," Bonamici said Thursday, Sept. 8, as she moderated a candidate forum sponsored by Willamette Women Democrats in Lake Oswego.
"But we are, because not only do we have amazing candidates here in Oregon, we have them across the country, and they're working hard.
"We have a lot of work to do in Congress. That is why I am up for the fight — and why it is so important that we elect all three of these amazing women."
Bonamici echoed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who appeared at a fundraiser with all of them earlier in the week at the Portland Hilton.
"We intend to grow our numbers," Pelosi told reporters afterward. "Oregon is very important in that regard."
Both said Democrats have been bolstered by recent congressional action on clean energy, climate change and prescription drug prices — and public reaction against a U.S. Supreme Court decision ending a federal constitutional right to an abortion, leaving the issue to the states.
Two of the Democrats are running in districts that take in parts of Clackamas and Washington counties. The third is running in a southwest Oregon district.
One seat (the 5th) will be guaranteed to elect a woman because both nominees are women.
Only twice have two Oregon women served together in Congress — and both pairings were Democrats.
From late 1960 to early 1967, Sen. Maurine Neuberger — the first woman elected statewide in Oregon, and still the only senator — served with Rep. Edith Green of Portland, who held the 3rd District seat from 1955 to 1975.
From 1997 to 1999, Rep. Elizabeth Furse of Hillsboro was in her third and final term in the 1st District, while Rep. Darlene Hooley of West Linn began the first of her six terms in the 5th District.
In addition to Bonamici, whose redrawn district retains most of Washington County and now extends into Portland just east of the Willamette River, the current Democratic candidates are:
• Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne, 55, whose 5th District now extends from Clackamas County — about 70% is still in the district — south into rural parts of Marion and Linn counties, and then east across the Cascades into Bend and Deschutes County. She unseated seven-term Democrat Kurt Schrader of Canby in the May 17 primary and faces Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former mayor of Happy Valley who lost bids for the Oregon House in 2016 and 2018.
This district is among the congressional contests rated as tossups by two national services, the Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.
As the 2nd District Democratic nominee in 2018, McLeod-Skinner held Republican incumbent Greg Walden to his lowest majority — Walden retired in 2020 after 11 terms — and she also ran for Oregon secretary of state two years ago. She acknowledged this will be the toughest race yet.
McLeod-Skinner would be the first LGBT member of Congress from Oregon.
"The district is a microcosm of our state and country. and if we get it right here, we can do well," she said. "We can work together to face the challenges we meet and we can work across the divide. This is how we win in purple areas and rural areas."
• Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego, 52, who seeks the new 6th District seat that Oregon gained as a result of the 2020 Census. The district takes in part of western Clackamas County, eastern Washington County, all of Yamhill and Polk counties, and the part of Marion County that includes Salem, Keizer and Woodburn.
"I know that change is possible in a single generation. I know it is true because it happened for me and my family as a first-generation American," Salinas said, referring to her father, an immigrant who became a U.S. citizen after military service during the Vietnam War.
Salinas was an intern for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and an aide to three other members of Congress — Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, California Rep. Pete Stark and Oregon Rep. Darlene Hooley. She also was a lobbyist in 2017 when she was appointed to the Oregon House, where she led the Health Care Committee (2019-20) and was majority whip, the third-ranking leadership spot. She was one of the prime advocates for 2022 legislation instituting overtime pay for farmworkers, and for 2017 legislation protecting reproductive rights.
"I know how to work with industry and advocates, and I know how to get things done," she said.
The Republican nominee is Mike Erickson, a Lake Oswego businessman who was the 5th District nominee against Hooley in 2006 and Schrader in 2008. "I am ready to send him packing a third time," Salinas said to laughter.
There is a Constitution Party candidate.
• Val Hoyle of Springfield, 58, who seeks the 4th District seat that Democrat Peter DeFazio of Springfield is vacating after an Oregon record 36 years. The district includes the counties with the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, but also more conservative Douglas County and the south coast.
Hoyle was appointed in 2009 to a swing district in the Oregon House, where she became majority leader in 2013. She lost a primary bid for secretary of state in 2016, but won the nonpartisan office of state labor commissioner two years later. That office enforces labor and civil rights laws and oversees apprenticeships — and allows her to go home every evening.
"I had to think long and hard about whether I want to run for Congress," she said. "But I'm not going to sit on the sidelines at this point. We are on the verge of losing our democracy.
"It is hard to think of it as a swing district. But it is — and we can win by telling people who I am and what I have delivered."
Her Republican opponent is Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg, who lost a bid for Douglas County commissioner in 2018 and lost to DeFazio by 5 percentage points in 2020. Skarlatos was one of three Americans who thwarted a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in 2015.
There are three minor-party candidates.
The rating services differ on the two contests. Cook lists the 4th and 6th as "leaning Democratic," but Crystal Ball has them as "likely Democratic."
Three open seats are rare for Oregon. But it's happened twice in the past 50 years.
In 1974, Democrat Les AuCoin of Forest Grove was elected to the 1st District seat, and Democrat Bob Duncan of Portland won the 3rd District seat. Both were open due to retirements. (Duncan had represented the 4th District from 1962 until he lost a bid for the Senate to Republican Gov. Mark Hatfield in 1966.) Democrat Jim Weaver of Eugene unseated four-term Republican John Dellenback of Medford in the 4th District.
In 1996, six-term Republican Bob Smith of Burns regained his former 2nd District seat after the incumbent resigned his renomination. Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Portland won the 3rd District seat vacated by Democrat Ron Wyden, who won a special election that January for an open U.S. Senate seat. Hooley unseated one-term Republican Jim Bunn of McMinnville in the 5th District.
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