Nov 18 2005

Oregon House, round 1

Published by at 2:45 pm under Oregon

Beaver State politics over the next year just might revolve around the governor’s race. (Willamette Week has a highly-recommended and fun read on its current formal and possible players.) But it could also fizzle. The battle of significance we know will be fought out is the contest for the Oregon House.

The last few elections in Oregon have been gnetly trending the way of Democrats, and as 2005 nears its end, the next cycle looks to head that way as well.

The Oregon Senate, now in 18-12 control of Democrats, has little low-hanging fruit for either party in 2006, and Republicans seeking to take back the chamber – as they must – will find the battle uphill.

The Oregon House is a different matter, what with all 60 seats up for grabs. The 2004 election left it with 33 Republicans and 27 Democrats; six seats would have to change hands for Democrats to take over in 2007. (Two changed in the Democrats’ favor last time.) On its face, that seems unlikely; we’re taking about a large turnover. And yet if the year trends Democratic, it could happen, especially if Democrats run a larger effort aimed at House Republican leadership, as they have started to do. The odds seem at the moment to favor ongoing Republican control. But a shift of just four seats would be involved; the odds are slim.

We’ll take several bites of the Oregon House apple. Below the fold, we’ll start with a look at the 10 closests Oregon House general election results of 2004, and what they suggest for targeting in 2006.

Just because a race was relatively close last time doesn’t mean it will be next time. But history is worth considering in thinking about options.

Closest 2004 races: Republican seats

District 10

mostly Lincoln County, with pieces of Lane, Yamhill, Polk and Tillamook (Republican vote, 50.5%) Alan Brown-R, Jean Cowan-D.

Alan Brown The closest House race of 2004, this pitched two likable and well-established candidates against each other, and against the backdrop of a dramatic state Senate race – which went to Democrat Joanne Verger. Brown’s incumbency may have helped; but clearly, he still had some residual problems from the reapportionment earlier this decade. (His 2002 race was almost exactly as close; how long can his luck hold?) Lincoln County went decisively for Democrats in 2004, from the presidential level on down, and if that direct maintains, this would be a logical top target for Democrats in 2006, especially if the well-regarded Brown opts out.

Which is possible, since he has not yet filed for this seat for next year – but Cowan has.

District 51

mostly northern rural Clackamas, with a small piece of Multnomah (Republican vote, 53.2%) Linda Flores-R, Kathryn Firestone-D

Linda Flores The Multnomah piece isn’t enough to affect much here (though it is clearly more Democratic than the much larger Clackamas part). And the Democrats had an above-average challenger in Kathryn Firestone. And Linda Flores’ 2002 contest was not nearly so close. But don’t discount the shakiness of this district; newcomers, many from Portland, are pouring into new developments here, and some shifting may be going on.

If Democrats field another strong candidate (Firestone again?) this district will be worth watching. Demnocrat Ryan Olds of Boring is the sole filer here so far.

District 37

Tualatin, Lake Oswego, West Linn (Republican vote, 53.1%) Scott Bruun-R, Jim Morton-D

Scott Bruun Close-fought suburban territory south of Portland, evidently most comfortable with very moderate Republicans like former Representative Randy Miller – and torn between the current choices. Is there any reason to suspect a Democratic candidate in 2006 will necessarily do better than Morton, who was very presentable and ran a good campaign?

No. But this is a growing, percolating area, and not especially predictable. Democrats would be missing a bet to pass on it, especially considering Morton’s respectable showing. Bruun has filed for re-election.

District 24

Central and western Yamhill County, small piece of Polk County (Republican vote, 54.5%) Donna Nelson-R, Tim Duerfeldt-D

Donna Nelson Okay, so there are lots of indications that Donna Nelson is simply entrenched in this district, that enough people like her that she will not be blasted out. There’ll be no prediction here, anytime soon, that she will be defeated in 2006. And yet there’s that nagging fact – in 2004 (despite winning what looked like a tough primary going away) she had the fourth closest call of any House Republican, her percentage whittled down somewhat by a multiplicity of small-party contenders. Is she beginning to wear thin in Yamhill? Might she be taken by a fresh, strong contender at a time when Yamhill is growing rapidly and a lot of new voters are joining the base? Stay tuned. (There have been no filings here yet.)

District 18

Southeastern and rural Clackamas County, including Silverton, Mount Angel and Molalla (Republican vote, 55.8%) Mac Sumner-R, Jim Gilbert-D.

Mac Sumner Another growth area (picking up a trend here?) where politics could be unloosened a bit, especially if a national wind is blowing in 2006. Democrats have only fitfully challenged here in the past, but when Gilbert did run a substantial contest, he also ran up a respectable (albeit not razor-close) vote total. It suggests some substantial Democratic possibilities here, especially in a Democratic year.

Sumner, running for his first re-election (he has filed), could be vulernable. Still, this is clearly a Republican district.

Closest 2004 races: Democratic seats

District 35

southeast Washington and southwest Multnomah counties, centered on Tigard (Democratic vote 49.2%) Larry Galizio-D, Suzanne Gallagher-R

Larry Galizio This closest win by a Democratic House candidate in 2004 ousted an appointed Republican incumbent, and was something of a bellwether race in a growing suburban district not tied down to either party. It seems to be moving gently Democratic, but Galizio, who door-knocked with special rigor in 2004, will have to push hard again.

Galizio, who is seeking re-election, is respectably positioned, but the democratics show neither party can take this seat for granted. It is a logical Republican target.

District 32

mainly Clatsop (but not Astoria) and Tillamook counties, with slices of Washington and Columbia counties (Democratic vote 50.1%) Deborah Boone-D, Douglas Olson-R

Deborah Boone Olson was an unusually strong Republican candidate, running against Boone at a time when she was newly establishing herself as a legislator. On the other hand, the 2002 race here was even closer. Republicans may want to consider this district carefully; if they get another candidate of Olson’s caliber, it might be worth the investment.

Boone has filed for re-election.

District 9

mainly Coos County, with small pieces of Douglas and Lane (Democratic vote 51.1%) Arnie Roblan-D, Susan Massey-R

Arnie Roblan This is a more Republican part of the coast than most of the counties to the north. But Roblan has a fine local issue (airport funding) to turn against House Republican leaders if they come after him, and Coos has been trending slightly Democratic of late. Barring mistakes, this one may not be so good a prospect as 2004 numbers would indicate.

It may, however, have a hot race. The one candidate filed so far is Al Pearn, who ran a heated and fairly close race for the state Senate in 2004 against Democrat Joanne Verger. This is definitely a district to watch.

District 48

split between Multnomah and Clackamas (Democratic vote 51.2%) Mike Shaufler-D, Dave Mowry-R

Mike Schaufler Another growth district, east of Milwaukee (and southeast of Portland), centered on the Happy Valley area – another boom place somewhat up for grabs. As it continues to grow, the loyalties of the newcomers here will be sharply tested.

Shaufler ran close enough last time to figure that Republicans will have to take a hard look here in 2006. There have been no filings here yet, but Republicans surely will not let this ballot spot go vacant.

District 11

rural eastern Lane and eastern Linn counties (Democratic vote 57.1%) Phil Barnhart-D, Michael Spasaro-R

Phil Barnhart Not really all that close in 2004, but this is an unusual case of a true rural district voting for a Democrat, and no conservative Democrat at that. This district, if nothing else, might leave Republicans scratching their heads and thinking, “we should be able to pick that up.”

In theory.

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