More and more, in following the numbers, you get the sense that Oregon won’t be getting that sixth U.S. House district when the census numbers are unveiled in near term. We got the latest feel for that a few days ago with the new stats out from the Portland State University Population Research Center. It estimates Oregon population at 3,844,195. Split that six ways and you get 640,699 – likely about 100,000 short of what would be ideally needed for a sixth district to add to the current five. (Washington state still looks closer for a tenth district.)
Still. Suppose Oregon did add a sixth district? What would be the political fallout?
Our sense that Republicans should cheer on that extra district, and Democrats should hope against it – another argument in the loose fallacy of districts added on to “red” or “blue” states. Oregon may be more blue than red, but it’s purple enough that it matters how you slice it.
To get a handle on this, we carved the state (using the new PSU numbers) into six pieces. We avoided dividing counties (only Multnomah, which would have to be, and then only in two pieces) and tried to make the districts reasonably compact and logical. And we set an “ideal” district size at around 640,000. (Recognizing that in the real world, the district sizes probably would have to match a little more closely than they do here.)
Start with the east, what is essentially the current District 2. 17 of Orgon’s 36 counties are east of the Cascades, with the western side running from Hood River County in the north to Klamath in the south. That vast terrain, even accounting for the recent growth around Bend, just gets us to 506,235. We could snake along the Columbia Gorge and raid eastern Multnomah County for the other 35,000 or so. But in the interests of avoiding county splitting, we would give up Hood River and Wasco counties and send them to a district to the west, and to the south bring in all of Jackson County. Call this District 1.
This sets up some easy collections of unsplit counties to the west. In southwest Oregon, you could unite Josephine, Curry, Coos, Douglas and Lane counties to come up with something close to a district. Call it district 2.
Similarly: Linn, Marion, Benton, Polk and Lincoln bring a good number for District 3.
Just to the north, Washington and Yamhill counties add up to a neat and compact District 4.
Then, you could add the three northwest shorefront counties (Tillamook, Clatsop, Columbia) together with about two-thirds of Multnomah County for District 5.
And the other third of Multnomah could unite with Hood River and Wasco counties, and all of Clackamas, for District 6.
It’s a pretty neat fit, but a map that looks like this should make Oregon Democrats, who now hold four of the five districts, uneasy.
This outline would continue the Republican lock on the eastern Oregon-based district. It would likely continue Democratic dominance on the two Multnomah-based districts (5 and 6), though probably a little less solidly than now.
But what of the others? The current southwest district (the seat now held by Democrat Peter DeFazio) is semi-marginal as it is, and this prospective District 2 would probably make it more so (especially by eliminating the piece of Benton County). The other two districts would be truly iffy. Washington County these days leans Democratic, but not overwhelmingly in otherwise close races; pair it with Republican-leaning Yamhill (District 4) and you could make it unpredictable. The revised central Willamette district 3, with Marion as the largest county base and Linn the second largest, might lean Republican.
The larger reality is that Oregon is right now more Democratic than Republican, but more by yards than by miles. A congressional split of 4-1 is Democrats beating the odds. A split of 5-1 may be more than they could manage.
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