Democrats see opportunity in Salem Senate seat
After Deb Patterson lost her race against longtime state Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, in 2018, she immediately began preparing for a rematch in four years.
But Patterson, a Democrat, is getting a second chance to run for the Senate two years early.
Winters died in May, setting in motion an election in November 2020 to fill her seat. Republicans and Democrats a have taken an interest in Senate District 10, a crescent-shaped district that includes west and much of south Salem.
Democrats are making a play for the seat to keep or expand their 18-12 supermajority in the Senate. Republicans are seeking to bolster Sen. Denyc Boles' campaign to retain the seat she was appointed to in June. Of the Senate seats that will be on the 2020 ballot, nine are currently held by Republicans and seven by Democrats.
Winters, a well-liked moderate Republican, was elected to the seat in 2002. She was re-elected with lopsided victories despite Democrats gaining a narrow voter-registration advantage in the district.
In 2018, Democrats had their best showing in recent years for the seat when Patterson received 46% of the vote. With the Senate seat on the ballot next year amid the high turnout of a presidential election and without an established incumbent, Democrats see a chance. "I really believe it's a different race," said Patterson.
Republicans are bullish that they'll be able to keep the seat. Jeff Heyen, chairman of the Marion County Republican Party, said that while a recall against Gov. Kate Brown failed to qualify earlier this month, the effort gathered a large number of signatures in a short period of time. He said the recall reflects strong discontent with the state's Democratic leadership that'll carry into next year's elections.
"People are fed up with what the governor and our Legislature are doing," he said.
Tom Powers, caucus administrator of the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, pointed to support Boles has received from groups like Oregon Right to Life and the Oregon Firearms Federation that he said are out of step with the Salem district. He also said that voters will hold Republicans accountable for the highly publicized walkout of Senate Republicans over climate change legislation last session.
In an interview, Boles declined to comment on the walkout, pointing out that she had yet to be appointed to the Senate seat when it occurred.
Boles worked as a legislative staffer before being appointed to a vacant House seat in 2014. Boles did not run to keep the seat. In 2018, she was again appointed to fill a vacancy for the same House seat and successfully ran for a full term.
Boles, 50, said she has lived in the district for much of her life and describes herself as a "limited-government girl" who has long maintained a Republican registration. She said that during her time in the Legislature, she brought a collaborative approach, similar to Winters. She's actively reached out to constituents while working on bipartisan bills on school bullying, mental health and issues affecting "disenfranchised people."
"The Legislature is really driven by relationships and I'm good at relationships," said Boles, who works in community relations for Salem Health Hospitals & Clinics.
Patterson, 63, has a background in health care advocacy and currently serves as a congregational minister. She's running on economic issues such as stagnant wages, as well as the rising costs of health care, college and housing. Patterson, who has lived in the district for about 10 years, said she'll work collaboratively toward "win-win" solutions. "I believe we can get an Oregon that works for everyone," she said.
Evan Sorce, chairman of the Marion County Democrats, said that he expects Patterson's message to go over well in the district as its political makeup has changed over the years. Although no other candidates have filed to run, the filing deadline is March 10, 2020. In recent years, Democrats have gained a small voter registration edge. As of December 2010, 38% of voters in the district were registered Republicans to 37% that were registered Democrats. As of December 2018, 31% of voters in the district were registered Democrats to Republican's 30%.
In the 2018 general election, 69% of eligible voters in the district participated. Of those, 80% of Democrats voted to 82% of Republicans.
Evan Ridley, political director of the Leadership Fund (the campaign arm of Senate Republicans), said in an email that the fund is backing Boles and is confident she'll be re-elected.
According to the state's campaign finance database, Patterson has raised $12,765 in 2019 and has a cash balance of $20,581. Boles has raised $31,070 in 2019 and has a balance of $34,039.
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