Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer leading in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, race too close to call

In a nationally watched race for Congress, Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer is leading Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner in partial results released on Tuesday night, but the race remained too close to call.

Partial results tallied as of 8:45 p.m. Tuesday showed Chavez-DeRemer ahead 52.4% to 47.3%.

National politics watchers homed in on the swing district, one of the most competitive in the country this year, after McLeod-Skinner ousted seven-term Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader in the May primary. Chavez-DeRemer could join Andrea Salinas, who was leading in the 6th District, as Oregon’s first Latinas in Congress.

As expected, later deadlines for voters to turn in ballots along with lower turnout heading into Election Day left many county officials with plans to continue counting a significant number of ballots through Wednesday and possibly, later in the week.

But to further complicate matters, Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall planned to release preliminary tallies twice Tuesday night before waiting until Wednesday at 6 p.m. to update ballot counts again. Other counties expected to post multiple updates to their tallies Tuesday and planned early-morning reports as they counted additional ballots.

If her lead holds, Chavez-DeRemer’s win will mark a major boon for national Republicans, who on Tuesday are trying to reclaim power from Democratic U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her party.

On the campaign trail, Chavez-DeRemer pledged to help cut inflation and combat crime and homelessness, which she blamed on the Democratic leadership in Oregon. In the weeks leading up to the election, national forecasts showed Chavez-DeRemer gaining the edge in the race as Republicans’ chances surged nationally and Oregon voters expressed significant dissatisfaction with the direction of the state.

Schrader became Oregon’s first sitting member of Congress to lose a primary challenge since 1980, after he bucked his party on pandemic aid and pharmaceutical regulation and state lawmakers redrew his district to stretch from Southeast Portland to Bend.

Following the primary, McLeod-Skinner, 55, and Chavez-DeRemer, 54, both tried to cast themselves as moderates best-suited to represent the swing district. Democrats have a slight voter registration edge, with 170,300 registered Democrats, 145,500 registered Republicans and 209,900 other voters.

McLeod-Skinner ran with support from local Democrats and the Congressional Progressive Caucus but refused to call herself a progressive. Chavez-DeRemer touted her party’s support but softened her stance against abortion after the May primary and skirted questions about the integrity of the 2020 election.

In ads, Chavez-DeRemer called McLeod-Skinner a radical who supports defunding the police, while the Democrat called Chavez-DeRemer an “extremist” for her stances on abortion and election integrity.

Chavez-DeRemer said in October she’d oppose any federal law restricting abortion rights. But she applauded the U.S. Supreme Court decision in May removing the constitutional right to abortion. McLeod-Skinner supports Democratic efforts to reinstate federal abortion rights.

Political watchers described the race as a test for progressive politics and an opportunity for Republicans to disrupt Democrats’ stronghold in Oregon. Before the election, Democrats controlled four of Oregon’s five seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The race was initially considered a “tossup” by nonpartisan political observers. But Chavez-DeRemer appeared to gain in October amid a surge of out-of-state spending by national Republicans.

By November, outside groups had spent $7.1 million attacking McLeod-Skinner, while such groups had only spent $2 million attacking Chavez-DeRemer, according to the nonpartisan election watchdog Open Secrets.

The House Majority PAC, the outside group aligned with Pelosi, didn’t spend at all in the district, instead pouring resources into Oregon’s 6th District.

That imbalance boosted Chavez-DeRemer, who raised almost $1 million less than McLeod-Skinner this election cycle, according to campaign finance data as of mid-October.

Chavez-DeRemer focused on inflation in her messages to voters and blamed Democrats for a rising cost of living. She also described a surge in crime linked with homelessness, although she did not provide specifics. She said law enforcement agencies need funding to hire more police officers and curb “rampant” crime.

“We are a nation of law and order, and we need to make sure that we have addressed those issues,” Chavez-DeRemer told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Chavez-DeRemer also pledged to support a “parental bill of rights” while ensuring critical race theory isn’t taught in public schools.

She touted her experience as mayor of Happy Valley from 2011 to 2018, where supporters say she took a bipartisan tack to steer the city through a population boom. She leads marketing for Anesthesia Associates Northwest, a network of medical clinics employing about 150 people that she co-founded with her husband in 2005.

McLeod-Skinner, who portrays herself as an independent thinker, gained name recognition after her unsuccessful 2018 run for the deep-red 2nd Congressional District, which included Bend before it was drawn into the 5th District during redistricting last year.

She manages responses to disasters and wildfires for the Oregon Department of Human Services, sits on the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and mediates conflicts over natural resources as a consultant. McLeod-Skinner has held a slew of city council seats, civic board seats, city manager posts and disaster-zone management jobs in Oregon and California.

Climate change was top of mind for the Democrat while campaigning. She called for more federal investment in power grids and manufacturing to facilitate Oregon’s transition to renewable energy and to create jobs. She also linked the economic hardship that some central Oregonians face to devastating climate-fueled disasters such as wildfires and the region’s deep drought.

“There is a sense of urgency, and we need to move quickly,” McLeod-Skinner said.

Chavez-DeRemer cast doubt on climate science and Democratic plans to decarbonize the U.S. economy. She called for conservation of water and timber.

The pair also disagreed on gun regulations. McLeod-Skinner supports raising the legal age to buy semiautomatic assault weapons from 18 to 21, a topic that was pushed to the forefront in the district after a 20-year-old man armed with a legally purchased AR-15 killed two people at a Bend Safeway. Chavez-DeRemer opposes new gun regulations.

The candidates shared some common ground in their support for improving public safety responses to people in mental health crises and their calls to adequately fund and train police.

— Grant Stringer;; 503-307-3591; @Stringerjourno

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