These hot Oregon House races could weaken Democrats’ stronghold

Democrats have dominated the Oregon House for the past decade, but many pundits see a very real possibility that Republicans will flip at least two seats this month, thereby undermining Democrats’ supermajority.

The Oregonian/OregonLive has identified eight House districts that may be in jeopardy of flipping from Democratic to Republican – as well as two seats that could go from Democrats’ control to Republicans’.

To be clear, no political strategists consulted by the news organization expect most or all of the 10 seats to flip. But campaign analysts in both parties expect some will.

One sure sign that a race is intensely contested: Democrats or Republicans or both have pumped in big last-minute money. In a few of these contests, one party has poured $200,000, $300,000 or more into a campaign in the past two weeks alone.

To put spending of that magnitude into perspective, a typical House district is home to just 45,000 to 55,000 registered voters.

So far this election season, spending by the two parties has been remarkably even overall, with all 60 House seats up for a vote on Tuesday. Democrats have raised $6.8 million and Republicans $7 million.

Democrats hold one numbers advantage: The state has far more registered Democrats (1.01 million) than registered Republicans (731,000). And Democrats outnumber Republicans in 39 of the 60 House districts, the maps for which were redrawn under Democrats’ leadership last year.

History, however, has shown that doesn’t always mean their candidate is a shoo-in.

In 2020, for example, Republican Suzanne Weber easily won election to House District 32 on Oregon’s North Coast, a seat that had long been held by Democrats. She did so even though the district had a 33% to 27% Democratic registration edge at the time.

And this year, House Republicans say they think they have a fighting chance of turning Democratically-controlled House District 7, which covers Springfield, Republican. That’s even though 32% of the district’s registered voters are Democrats, compared to 23% registered as Republicans.

“A Springfield Democrat is a lot different than a Wilsonville Democrat or a West Linn Democrat or a Lake Oswego Democrat,” said Dru Draper, political director for the House Republicans’ PAC Evergreen Oregon, contrasting the Lane County city with three of Portland’s most affluent suburbs. “Democrats in Springfield are a lot more working class. They’re getting pummeled by inflation. They don’t like what they’re seeing on the streets with homelessness and drug abuse.”

That’s why the three largest Republican PACs in the state have poured $165,000 into District 7 Republican candidate Alan Stout’s candidacy in the past two weeks – doubling their previous contributions for the year.

They’re gunning hard to end Democrats’ three-fifths supermajority, which has enabled Democrats to direct the legislative agenda and shepherd through bills that raise taxes without the other party’s support. And, riding a wave of voter dissatisfaction in Oregon over problems like homelessness, crime and the cost of living, Republicans say in their most optimistic outlook they might come close to a 30-30 split, which they last attained in the 2010 election.

Here’s a look at the 10 most-talked-about House races this year.

First, the eight Democrat-held districts that Republicans might have the best chances of winning:

House District 49 – North Gresham, Wood Village, Fairview and Troutdale: Rep. Zach Hudson, D-Troutdale, is a teacher who has worked at Reynolds, Corbett and Gresham high schools, as well as Mount Hood Community College and is also a former Troutdale City Council member. He’s seeking a second term by defeating his Republican contender, Troutdale Mayor Randy Lauer, who owns a CrossFit gym in Gresham.

Lauer has out-raised Hudson $690,000 to about $475,000. Despite a sizable Democratic registration edge, 33% Democrat versus 20% Republican, both parties appear to think this is going to be a close race. In the past two weeks, both the Republicans’ and the Democrats’ major PACs and party leaders have invested heavily – contributing about $350,000 to Lauer and $280,000 to Hudson since Oct. 20.

Analysts say what this race really may come down to is whether Democrats turnout in large enough numbers to give Hudson the win.

House District 26 – Sherwood and Wilsonville: Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, a high school French and Spanish teacher, is hoping to win a third term by prevailing over Republican Jason Fields, a small business owner. The district is 34% Democrat and 26% Republican by registration, so it swings Neron’s way.

But Neron’s campaign has spent big money on the race, indicating concerns about holding the seat. Her campaign has drawn and spent more than $1 million this year, including more than $350,000 from the House Democrats’ campaign arm, FuturePAC, in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, Fields has raised one-quarter as much as Neron.

House District 40 – Oregon City, Gladstone and the western part of the Clackamas area: This is an open House seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, who is running for state Senate. Republican newcomer Adam Baker is a Gresham police officer who is running on “restoring the rule of law” and “solving the opioid epidemic” platforms – pitches that may resonate with voters frustrated with crime and homelessness.

But the district is largely Democratic – 35% Democrats compared to 24% Republicans. Democratic newcomer Annessa Hartman, who works for the Native American Youth and Family Center, is running on a platform of combatting homelessness with affordable housing and access to mental health and addiction services; keeping health care costs low; providing a strong public education system and maintaining legal abortion in Oregon.

Baker has out-raised Hartman, $630,000 to $465,000. The candidates’ respective parties have invested heartily in their races, especially in the past two weeks, with Republicans funneling $185,000 to Baker and Democrats $190,000 to Hartman.

House District 7 – Springfield: Rep. John Lively, D-Springfield, is seeking his sixth term in office. Republican Alan Stout, a sales manager with no governmental experience, may have caught the Democrats by surprise with this challenge.

Lively has proven to be a survivor, winning election in 2020 even though the district was overwhelmingly Republican – 36% compared to 25% Democrat. But redistricting has strikingly changed that equation: It’s now 23% Republican and 32% Democrat.

Even so, it’s clear both parties think this is a competitive race, with Republicans contributing $165,000 to Stout in the past two weeks and Democrats sending nearly $150,000 to Lively during the same time period.

House District 39 – centered on the Happy Valley area of Clackamas County: Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, is fighting to retain her seat for a fourth term against a political newcomer, Republican Kori Haynes, who launched her parental rights, anti-government overreach campaign after she learned of a gender identity lesson her son had been taught in school in response to bullying some kids had endured.

Bynum, the only Black female state representative, is known for successfully passing a list of police accountability reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Haynes has been highly critical of Bynum and pegs her as unsupportive of police, although both Bynum and Haynes have won endorsements from some police groups.

Bolstered largely by her party’s major PACs, Bynum has outraised her opponent four to one – about $975,000 compared to Haynes’ $245,000.

Republicans, however, contend that voters are disappointed with crime and homelessness plaguing the district and are seeking an alternative to Bynum.

As in virtually all state House races, neither side is releasing internal polling.

House District 22 – part of Woodburn and regions to the southwest: This open seat is being vacated by Teresa Alonso Leon, who bowed out of a reelection attempt to launch what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Congress. Republican Tracy Cramer, a small business owner with no governmental experience, is running against Democrat Anthony Medina, a state education policy analyst who served on the Woodburn School Board.

The pair’s campaign funds are almost evenly matched – $700,000 for Cramer and $723,000 for Medina. About 20% of the district’s voters are Republicans, compared to 28% Democrats.

House District 21 – North Salem, Keizer: Democratic Rep. Chris Hoy, who was appointed to the seat less than a year ago, isn’t running for election. Republican Kevin Mannix is a lawyer and past state representative and senator who twice ran for governor. He’s vying for the seat against Democrat Ramiro “RJ” Navarro Jr., the son of a migrant farmworker, a combat veteran who served in Iraq and a business owner.

Republicans see Navarro as unfit for the job because he was convicted of a felony marijuana charge and coercion in 2011 and sentenced to 18 months in prison. They also cite the fact that he also briefly hired a sex offender to work on his campaign.

Navarro, however, says he’s been straightforward about his past and has from the outset billed himself as a second-chance candidate who has come back from war-related post traumatic stress disorder and drug use to be a community leader.

Navarro has the voter-registration edge – with 29% of the district’s voters registered as Democrats and 25% as Republicans. But Mannix has raised far more money, nearly $490,000 to Navarro’s $110,000. And it seems the Republican and Democratic parties may see the course of this race already set: Neither party has contributed any money the past two weeks.

House District 52 – eastern portion of Clackamas County, Hood River and The Dalles: Rep. Anna Williams, D-Hood River, resigned in August to take a state policy job. Republican Jeff Helfrich, a former police officer, was appointed to serve as state representative in 2017 but lost narrowly to Williams in 2018 and 2020.

This time, he’s up against Democrat Darcy Long, a city councilmember in The Dalles and a financial adviser. Redistricting had little effect on the district’s voter registration balance. It’s still about 32% Democrat and 26% Republican. But Helfrich has raised more than three times as much as his opponent – $575,000 to Long’s $160,000. And neither of the major PACs for the Republicans or the Democrats have put any money into the races in the past two weeks, likely indicating that they think the race’s outcome is set.

Here are two Republican-held districts where Democrats might have the strongest chance of prevailing:

House District 53 – northern Bend, southern Redmond, Sisters and unincorporated Deschutes County: Two newcomers are competing for the seat vacated by Jack Zika, R-Redmond. Democrat Emerson Levy, a renewable energy lawyer, ran against Zika in 2020 and lost by a sizable 14-percentage point margin. But the district has been redrawn, and it now leans slightly Democrat instead of Republican – 31% to 29%.

The question will be who aligns more with voters’ views. Levy is campaigning on platforms of bolstering Central Oregon’s economy and increasing affordable housing for teachers and healthcare workers. Republican Michael Sipe, a small business consultant, is campaigning on overarching themes of “fixing what’s broken” in government and stopping government overreach.

Sipe has raised far more money than Levy – about $650,000 compared to Levy’s $143,000.

House District 19 – southeast Salem: Two former Salem City Council members are vying for a vacancy left by Republican Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, who is running for state Senate. Due to a significant redrawing of the map, the district that used to be slightly red is now 24% Republican and 32% Democrat by registration.

Democrats think they have a real chance here – pitting their candidate, Tom Andersen, a lawyer, against Republican contender TJ Sullivan, an insurance agent. Both parties’ major PACs have contributed handsomely, to the tune of more than a quarter million each to their candidates. From all funders, Anderson has raised about $675,000, compared to Sullivan’s $360,000.

— Aimee Green;; @o_aimee

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