Writings and observations

The few, the competitive

Washington state seems to have an abundance of competitive legislative races this year; Oregon … less so. The Oregonian Sunday offered a list of 16 races – 10 in the House and a half-dozen in the Senate – worth a close watch. It matches up generally with what we’ve seen and heard, but a few additional words seem in order.

First, there’s the relative closeness of the chambers. In the Senate, Democrats control 18-12 (with half the seats, mostly Democratic up for election); in the House, it’s 36-24. That means Republicans could pull to a tie in the Senate picking up three seats and in the House picking up six. Those are not enormous numbers. Even closer striking distance is the number they need to pick up – one in each chamber – to eliminate the Democrats’ 60% control in each chamber, the level needed to approve tax increases and some other measures.

The 60% level, hinging as it does on a single seat, could be at risk in any year. But if there’s little talk of a realistic prospect of Republicans taking over either chamber in Oregon this year, and there’s not been much such talk, the reasons have to do with the nature of the individual races.

Simply, a number of seats could flip, but the odds seem to favor both sides doing some gaining and losing. So the second point is that these 16 races (and it reads like a good collection of significant contests) are not all made equal.

The six Senate seats in the Oregonian list, in districts 3, 8, 15, 19, 20 and 26, show as much. Four are now held by Democrats, two by Republicans; Republicans would have to run the table of winning all of those Democratic seats and losing none of their own.

The single most likely party flip of the group looks like District 26, centered on eastern Multnomah County and Hood River County and held by a Democrat for years, but competitive. This is an open seat, which usually makes things more competitive. Hood River County Commissioner Chuck Thomsen, the Republican, looks to have the odds there, though the Democrats have a hard-working candidate too (Brent Barton, now a House member). This one is a close call.

The other five look a little less so. In 20 (the Oregon City area), Democrat Martha Schrader (wife of U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader) is running for the first time for the Senate, after her appointment to replace her husband; but she was long established on the Clackamas County Commission, has a solid base and seems a pretty good bet for election. In 15 (the Hillsboro area), Republican incumbent Bruce Starr has an aggressive opponent in state Representative Chuck Riley, and the campaign has turned hot; but most of the betting goes to the more established Starr. The other three incumbents being challenged, Democrats Richard Devlin and Alan Bates and Republican Frank Morse, also seem too well established in their districts. Their electoral track records are solid, they are good campaigners, and while the campaigns against each are serious, none seem at this point to have the kind of specific issues likely to do them in.

On the House side, the Oregonian‘s 10 includes six seats now held by Democrats and four by Republicans. Of those, two challengers to incumbents – Republicans Sal Equivel in 6 (the Medford area) and Jim Weidner in 24 (Yamhill County) – look like uphill climbs. (We’ll get into that a little more in a future post.) So does the Republican effort in 29 (Hillsboro area) where Democrat Katie Riley, seeking to follow in place her husband Chuck, has the benefit of an established name that’s been winning locally for a while. The other seven seats, though (five now Democratic, two now Republican) all look pretty closely competitive and could reasonably go either way; four of these seats are open this election.

What this adds up to, barring a truly massive wave or some other unpredictable element, and simply playing the odds, is what may be Republican net pickups of one in the Senate and something like two to three in the House.

Maybe. This could be an unusual year. Keep watching.

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