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Who replaces Hooley?

Darlene Hooley

Darlene Hooley

Representative Darlene Hooley‘s surprise announcement this morning that she’s not running for re-election gives Oregon something it hasn’t had for years: A truly wide open U.S. House contest.

There didn’t seem to be any very specific impetus for the announcement. She said her health was good (a consideration at 68). She has won her last few races convincingly – though not overwhelmingly, her last win clocking in at about 54% – and looked in strong shape for this year. Her campaign treasury has an ample $467,540 on hand.

But her departure is a national rarity this year: A Democratic retirement from a seat that credibly could wind up in the hands of either party. But she pointed out specifically, in early news reports, that this year would be a good time politically – for her party – for a change, since 2008 looks like a strong Democratic year. She may be right that the timing tilts the field a bit.

So what’s the picture in the Oregon 5th?

Oregon 5th

Look at the map and the first thing that jumps out is its odd shape, what with the two coastal counties (which tend Democratic) and the remote areas to the east in the Cascades (which tend more Republican). But the core of this district is close to Interstate 5, from the southern edge of Portland in the north down the road through and south of Salem. The bulk of the voters are in western Clackmas County, within a few miles of the Lake Oswego-West Linn-Oregon City-Canby/Wilsonville area, and a few miles to the south, clustered around Salem.

This is competitive territory: Look at the legislative delegation for this area, and you’ll find a fair roster both of Democrats and Republicans. Let’s pause here for a moment, and list the legislators whose districts take in a fair chunk of the 5th:

bullet Senators: Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay (5th district); Frank Morse, R-Corvallis (8th); Fred Girod, R-Stayton (9th); Jackie Winters, R-Salem (10th); Peter Courtney, D-Salem (11th); Gary George, R-Newberg (12th); Larry George, R-Sherwood (13th); Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose (16th); Kurt Schrader, D-Canby (20th). Only Girod, Winters and Courtney live within the 5th. That’s four Democrats, five Republicans.

bullet Representatives Jean Cowan, D-Newport (10th), Andy Olson, R-Albany (15th), Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis (16th), the seat which has been held by Fred Girod (just named to the Senate), R-Stayton (17th); Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton (18th); Kevin Cameron, R-Salem (19th); Vicki Berger, R-Salem (20th); Brian Clem, D-Salem (21st); Betty Komp, D-Woodburn (22nd); Brian Boquist, R-Dallas (23rd); Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer (25th); Jerry Krummel, R-Wilsonville (26th); Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach (32nd); Scott Bruun, R-West Linn (37th); Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego (38th); Wayne Scott, R-Canby (39th); Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone (40th); Linda Flores, R-Clackamas (51st). That’s seven Democrats, 11 Republicans. (As with the senators, of course, only some of them live in the 5th U.S. House district.)

On the basis of local legislative elections, that gives a small edge in the area to Republicans, although you have to weigh one other factor: Republicans have been losing seats in this area of late. This collection of legislative seats was a lot more Republican when Hooley entered Congress than it is today. Just in this area, the Democrats increased their House roster by two in 2006 (Cowan and Clem both beat Republican incumbents).

Add it all up, and this could be anyone’s race. The quality of the candidates and campaigns, together with the political atmosphere this fall, will spell the difference. For Republicans, this does at least represent a realistic pickup possibility, though in this year that still may not be easy.

Candidates? Haven’t had a lot of time to surface. There has been some talk that Hooley’s 2006 opponent, businessman Michael Erickson, who spent a lot of (mostly his own) money in the race, might try again. Might be tough, though, since the current FEC reports say his campaign is $1,575,995 in debt (probably most or all to himself).

State Representative Boquist, who twice ran unsuccessfully against Hooley, said earlier this year he will run for the state Senate, in a district where the odds clearly favor him. Might he, with a couple of House terms under his belt and a strong political base, give the 5th another look?

For that matter, which among the legislators in this district might be thinking about a step up to Congress?

Here’s a story to be written. There’ll be a lot of interest in the Oregon 5th before long.

THE D FIELD? We had wondered if there was a Democratic prospect already lined up, and apparently there is: Paul Evans, noted in early reports as husband of Hooley’s chief of staff. More important, Evans is a rising Democratic star in Oregon, maybe the most promising Democratic legislative candidate in 2006 who didn’t win, losing to a very popular Republican senator, Jackie Winters. Evans’ story is compelling: A volunteer fireman, educator, former mayor of Monmouth, a veteran Army special-ops officer with several tours in Iraq and the Middle East behind him. And – we’ve watched him in action – a strong and compelling candidate as well. If the reports are right and he enters, he might clear the field on the Democratic side.

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