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The Kropf opening

Does the dropout of Jeff Fropf from re-election to his House seat open a new House opportunity for Oregon Democrats?

Jeff KropfThe snap presumption seems to be that no, it doesn’t. After rummaging through the stats, the area and the candidate situation, we’d conclude that the seat likely will remain Republican next term. Like but not definitely – Kropf’s leave-taking has opened an opportunity for Democrats that hadn’t existed previously.

Kropf is a native of the Albany area and long has been involved in real estate and run a farm near Sublimity, east of that city at the feet of the Cascades. Since his first election to the House in 1998 with 59.7% of the vote, he has had no trouble winning re-election, and his seat has been slated as safe Republican since. He has been one of the more flamboyant House members and made some headlines for flying an immigration watch on the border with Mexico; none of it has done him harm politically, and probably helped.

He filed for re-election this year, and he hasn’t been considered at risk. But in the last few years he has also been a radio talk show host, part time, at KXL in Portland (occasionally subbing for Lars Larsen), and he has said he’s interested in pursuing that line of work. It came to a decision in recent weeks when he and the station learned he’d have to give his opponent this year, Democrat Dan Thackaberry, equal air time, or pay his campaign the equivalent. Faced with the choice, Kropf ended his re-election bid rather than give up the radio show. Quote from Kropf: “I have to think about my future, and it isn’t in politics, and it’s likely to be in radio.” (Will the show lose some of its spark when its host isn’t an actual state official? But that’s another matter.)

The Republicans have until August 29 to replace him; the decision probably won’t come for another couple of weeks at least. Local Republicans said they’re not worried about losing the seat, pointing to the 43%-34% Republican edge in voter registration.

But are they right to be so unconcerned?

House District 17

The voters of the district are in eastern Linn and eastern Marion counties, about two-thirds in Linn; the communities there include Sublimity, Scio, Lebanon (the largest of them) and Sweet Home. It is a place of sometimes stressed agriculture and timber, but also new suburban development and some new ag and industry growth as well. It’s not a boom area, but it’s certainly not in decay. And, with population exports from the Salem area and elsewhere, it is changing somewhat.

It is Republican clearly, though less than on the other side of the Cascades. It votes generally for Republicans for higher office, but there is a ballot-splitting tendency too: Votes were deeply split around here in 2004 for U.S. Senate and representative (the Democrats won both in Linn County overall).

Part of what has been happening is that Democratic challenges to Republicans have been intermittent. You can see why that might be. After easily putting away Democrats in earlier races, Kropf drew only minor-party opposition in 2004.

But these things can be personal, and a new Republican candidate will have to start from scratch in mid-August or later.

Thackaberry isn’t starting from the strongest advantage point. His campaign appears to be low-key; as an indicator, he has almost no web presence, and on the Oregon House Democrats web page, he’s one of five candidates who didn’t even contribute a picture.

Still, he’s been out there in the field, and he’s an established figure at least – a member of the Lebanon City Council and an established farmer.

And there’s an interesting neighboring House race. District 18 to the north is in many ways similar to 17, a comparable mix of small towns and a traditional ag/logging base undergoing some changes. There, incumbent Mac Sumner had a strong contest two years ago from Democrat Jim Gilbert, who held Sumner to 55.8%; and Gilbert is running an apparently stronger race this year.

The indicators don’t favor the Democratic effort in 17. But – especially since no one yet knows who the Republican nominee will be – they do suggest an opening. If it’s going to be taken usefully, now would be the time to get started.

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