Press "Enter" to skip to content

Flipping the House

Of the six legislative chambers* in the three Northwest states, just one appears to be seriously up for grabs – in partisan control – on Tuesday: The Oregon House. So what are the odds Democrats will wrest control of it, for the first time in 14 years, from the Republicans?

Oregon HouseWe think: Slightly better than even, with a distinct chance of split chamber control such as the Oregon Senate had the term before last.

[*The Oregon Senate might be next in rank order, but Republicans appear to have realistic shots at just two Democratic Senate seats, and their odds of picking up either are no better than even; while Democrats have at least an equal chance of unseating one Republican senator. The chance of a chamber flip in either Washington or Idaho, in this election, seems remote.]

In the 60-seat House, Republicans currently hold 33 and Democrats 27 seats. All are up for election. The math is simple: If Democrats manage a net gain of three seats, the House will be under split control; if Democrats gain net four or more, they take control.

The bulk of the 60 seats are opposed by a candidate of the major opposition party, but (as is usually the case) only a minority are so seriously contested as to merit close consideration: In the vast majority of cases, seats will be held by incumbents. Counting those seriously contested seats is the core of the question, and a difficult matter: Good analysts can come up with different numbers.

Start with the prospects for Democratic seat losses: Every Democratic seat lost adds to the total they must win from the other side to cross the 30 total.

The problem is, there aren’t many. Chuck Riley at Hillsboro has a serious race with the mayor of Cornelius, Terry Rilling, but our take is that the persistent controversies in Cornelius city government (not that Rilling is at fault, but with which he may be associated) could undercut him; beyond that, Riley has become an adept campaigner at this point. Larry Galizio at Tigard similarly is i a close race for a second term in a marginal district, but here again he seems to have entered well prepared and to have matched his opponent, newcomer Shirley Parsons, in hard work. We think these seats are unlikely to flip, and they seem to be closest to the edge among the 27 Democrats.

Turn now to the Republican caucus. Let’s start by examining where opposing sides agree.

The Oregon House Democrats noted late this week that “We’re pulling out all the stops. Over the past two weeks we’ve made significant NEW financial investments in the following races.” They name seven:

  • District 10 (central coast), Democrat Jean Cowan against Republican incumbent Alan Brown.
    District 14 (Eugene area), Democrat Chris Edwards against Republican incumbent Debi Farr.
    District 21 (Salem), Democrat Brian Clem against Republican incumbent Billy Dalto.
    District 24 (central Yamhill County), Democrat Sal Peralta against Republican incumbent Donna Nelson.
    District 25 (Salem to Newberg) Democrat Charles Lee against Republican incumbent Kim Thatcher.
    District 30 (Hillsobor area), Democrat David Edwards against Republican Everett Currey; open seat.
    District 49 (east Multnomah), Democrat Rob Brading against Republican incumbent Karen Minnis (the House speaker).
  • Compare this list against one from across the fence. Republican blogger Ted Piccolo (I Am Coyote), from a week ago today.

    We’ll note here that since he wrote about the House races, Piccolo has argued that the John Kerry comments of last week will generate a backlash favoring Republicans (a view we don’t share, and which hasn’t been picked up in polling that’s been in the field since those remarks were made). But his views on which seats are at least relatively vulnerable seem worth noting; Piccolo’s take on such matters has a good track record.

    His words: “Republicans who are in real trouble are: Alan Brown (Newport), Billy Dalto (Salem), Everett Curry (Hillsboro, formerly held by Derrick Kitts), Debi Farr (Eugene) and as of yesterday Donna Nelson (McMinnville). Of course Speaker Minnis is in trouble but that is more due to the Democrats really really trying to make a political point.”

    That list of six (counting Minnis), coming from an opposing source, suggests that these seats are indeed where the contest centrally lies – all six overlap with the Democrats’ top races assessment.

    Is there evidence that Democrats might be ahead?

    Not much public evidence (we’ve been told of internal Democratic polling showing Democrats ahead), but there is a little.

    The new Inside Oregon Politics blog – proprietor anonymous – is saying that two polls in the speaker’s race (District 49) show Minnis dropping and Brading rising. The blog comments: “Still several ‘X’ factors in play here, but I don’t think it’s looking good for Madame Speaker for a couple of reasons. In my experience, in the last days of an election it’s the trend that tends to be the most reliable predictor of outcome, and Minnis is trending down. I have said all along that turnout would be the key to victory in this election, and right now the D’s are winning the turnout battle.”

    That seems to be the case. The Associated Press reported late Friday: “As of Friday, 240,000 Republicans had turned in their ballots, compared to 278,000 Democrats, according to figures tracked by the Oregon GOP. That has state Republicans a bit on edge. Democrats outnumber them in Oregon, but Republicans traditionally turn out in higher numbers. ‘The Democrats are turning out,’ said Amy Langdon, executive director of the Oregon GOP. ‘We are telling our people, We know you are working hard, but you have to work harder. Apples to apples, us versus them, we are not where we need to be.”

    An analysis by a Democrat broke that down to the legislative district level, reinforcing Langdon’s comments. In the Cowan-Brown race, for example, Democrats lead in voter registration in the district 14,442 to 11,171, but by even more (proportionately) in ballots returned – 3,842 to 2,580. He found similar patterns in several other close races.

    Based on that analysis, he threw two other less-noted contests into the mix: District 39 (Oregon City/Canby), where Democrat Mike Caudle is opposing Republican Majority Leader Wayne Scott, and District 52 (Hood River/East Multnomah.NE Clackamas), where Suzanne Van Orman faces Republican Patti Smith. In the former, Republican voter registration is cnsiderably higher than Democratic, but Democratic vote returns as of Friday are actually ahead (4,601 to 4,105). In 52, the Democratic registration edge this time is matched by higher turnout.

    Depending on how you count, that’s eight or nine very serious races at a time when national and regional winds are blowing Democratic. Can Democrats win at least four of them? We think the odds are better than even.

    Share on Facebook