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Top 10 OR xgr: The premier races

Of the 75 Oregon state legislative seats up for grabs this year – 15 Senate, 60 House – just six – all in the House are completely unopposed. That’s a record for civic involvement neither Idaho nor Washington comes close to matching.

Oregon House ChamberBut it’s not, to be fair, an indicator that very many legislative seats will change hands. Odds are that as in recent years, the number of seats where that happens will be relatively small. Our best projections call for little change in either Senate or House overall. Bearing all factors in mind, we think most likely either no change or a seat in one direction or the other (more likely Democratic) in the Senate, and some Democratic pickup in the House, though the crystal ball still hazes when it gets close to the finish line – whether or not Republicans retain control.

A relatively small number of seats should decide the issue. What follow are the 10 we consider the top legislative races in the state, weighing closeness, intensity and significance. They’re listed by district.

First, a wild card: House District 24, a seat reliably and easily held this decade by Republican Donna Nelson. All the statistics suggest she’ll be returned again. Yet … keep a look out for the contest being waged by Democrat Sal Peralta, a McMinnville businessman who has been chair of the Yamhill County Democrats, and this year has been running an unusually organized, thorough and energetic campaign. No wild projections here, but – keep it on your radar screen.

Our pick Idaho races will appear next week, and Washington races soon after that state’s primary.

blue glass Senate District 7, incumbent Vicki Walker, D-Eugene; challenger Jim Torrey, R-Eugene. Ain’t gonna be anybody disputing this race’s place on this list. Walker has been a boat-rocker among Democrats for years, a rare legislator on the verge of breaking out as a true statewide figure, who almost filed for governor against incumbent Democrat Ted Kulongoski. Which hasn’t stopped TedK from campainging with her this season, and for good cause: She faces one of the best (maybe the best) legislative candidates the Republicans have recruited this year. Torrey, with a reputation as a moderate Republican (or define him as you will; his campaign materials have a Saxton-type sound to them), was mayor of Eugene for a decade and still would be if he’d wanted it. This looks like the Democratic Senate seat most at risk; at present, it feels too close to call.

red glass Senate District 10, incumbent Jackie Winters, R-Salem; challenger Paul Evans,D-Monmouth. Under most circumstances Winters, who ran for the U.S. House in 2004 (losing in the Republican primary), would be almost unbeatable in this suburban-rural district. But the national Democratic breezes may blow here, expanded by the nature of her opponent: Evans, a skilled candidate, a well-regarded two-term mayor of Monmouth who has served two tours of duty in Iraq. This race has already become intense, with some crossfire apparent. This looks like the most at-risk Republican Senate seat in the state.

red glass House District 10, incumbent Alan Brown, R-Newport; challenger Jean Cowan, D-Newport. This was the closest legislative race in Oregon in 2004, between two very likable candidates both well-known with long track records on the coast. A close call last time, it remains a close call this time.

red glass House District 17, open; Fred Girod, R-Stayton; Dan Thackaberry, D-Lebanon. A few months ago, this seat looked like a repeat slam dunk for Jeff Kropf, a conservative Republican increasingly well known through his Portland radio talk show. But in late summer came word that he couldn’t keep both show and ballot spot, and opted out. That gave the Democrat in the race, Lebanon city council member Thackaberry, an unexpected leg up and head start over Girod, a former legislator who named to fill the Republican slot weeks later. This is a Republican district and Girod is favored, but not by much. Keep an eye on it.

red glass House District 18, incumbent Mac Sumner, R-Molalla; Jim Gilbert, D-Molalla. Neighboring district to 17, and just north of it, instead of two new faces from last cycle, this one features a rerun of the 2004 contest. In that one, Sumner prevailed with 56.9% over Gilbert, a nursery owner. What’s changed? A much improved campaign on Gilbert’s part and a lot of growth in the district, with a bunch of new voters up for grabs. One of the more marginal races on the list, and not super-likely to flip; but if it does, look for serious implications for the east of I-5 Clackamas area, one of the boom stretches of the state.

red glass House District 21, incumbent Billy Dalto, R-Salem; Brian Clem, D-Salem. Another case of a Republican leader (assistant floor leader; he is also the first Hispanic Republican in the Oregon legislature) drawing a tough challenge – in Dalto’s case, after some personal controversy spread across the pages of the Oregonian. (He hired his mother to do office work; the letters to the editor in the Salem Statesman-Journal have fought fiercely over this for weeks.) And Clem is another of those energetic Democrats highly touted by his party this year, running in a politically marginal area.

red glass House District 29, incumbent Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro; Terry Rilling, R-Cornelius. Riley narrowly won this seat, in a district with a long Republican history, in 2004. The area – central Washington County – has been trending Democratic, and Riley’s win placed him on the cutting edge of that. Will he sustain that trend this time, or will Rilling, the mayor of Cornelius, push it back? (Bear in mind that Rilling is a somewhat controversial figure within the sometimes rancorous city of Cornelius.)

red glass House District 39, incumbent Wayne Scott, R-Canby; Mike Caudle, D-Oregon City. This is the most debatable of the 10, possibly a reach … and yet there’s something in some of the poll numbers and other analysis that suggests the possibility of an upset. Scott, the House majority leader, has not had problems holding this seat until now, and he may well romp to another win in November. But there’s something about the sheer intensity of the Caudle campaign that gives us pause.

red glass House District 49, incumbent Karen Minnis, R-Fairview; Rob Brading, D-Fairview. Another rematch, and an incumbent who happens to be the speaker of the House. Relevant factors: That last race was a whole lot closer than almost anyone expected (53.4%). Brading was then running not much more than a placeholder campaign. It’s a lot different now: By November this year, he will have been running hard for a year, with a string of issues to pound with, and with what looks like one of the strongest legislative campaign organizations statewide. Minnis’ base of support here is real, but will it be enough this year? If this seat flips, take that as an indicator that the Oregon House will.

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