Writings and observations

Wu
David Wu

Today the daily Oregonian banner headline on Representative David Wu was relegated to the metro section, something of a step back. For about a week and a half, stories about Wu there and in Willamette Week have been dominant features, and a narrative has been left in their wake: That something is seriously wrong with Wu and he is not longer fit and able to serve as a member of Congress.

It’s a remarkable blizzard of fierce coverage measured against the severity and volume of the facts. The facts are a series of incidents, most of them dating from last fall and most of them seemingly unrelated, and Wu’s reaction (which have included some interviews, mainly on television, in response) to reports about them. They include odd behavior (which he’s acknowledged) at the Portland airport and elsewhere shortly before the election, and external indicators such as the abrupt departure of about a third of his staff, including some key personnel, shortly after the November election.

The facts are enough to say that something troubling was going on. But the picture is still, after all the banner-level articles, largely unfilled; there’s still no clear picture of what has been happening and why. The explanations offered so far, in articles and from Wu, feel thin and unsatisfying. The best move Wu could make to reassure constituents, a series of personal town halls around the district, haven’t been forthcoming and seem unlikely to be. Wu’s response apart from TV interviews has been defiance: Hiring a new campaign treasurer, filing for re-election in 2012 (very early even under normal circumstances, and highly premature given reapportionment). He’s given no indication whatever of resigning, as several newspapers have suggested.

Given all that, there’s some logic now to looking ahead to 2012, and what the future may hold for the first district. With that in mind, a few thoughts.

First, the 1st district – which runs from downtown Portland through Washington County, south to Yamhill County and west to the Astoria area – won’t exist in its present form in 2012. Like all other districts, it will be reapportioned, and though there will be a northwest Oregon district configured in some way, it will have to be substantially changed. The 1st has been growing faster than any of Oregon’s other congressional districts (voter registration there rose by 61,307; the next largest was the 3rd, at 48,234), so some large piece of it will have to be lopped off and united with another district to the east or south. No one now knows what piece that will be.

Or whether the district remains as Democratic as it has become. (In November 2002, the Democratic registration there was 38%, Republican 36.9%; in November 2010, Democratic was 42.6%, Republican 30.3% – a change from a slight edge to a very large one.) It has, however, turned into a Democratic stronghold, and its successor districts seems likely to stay in that category.

Wu’s situation understandably is lighting an interest among Republicans. Rob Cornilles, the organized, funded and skilled – strongest Republican nominee there in a long time – Republican nominee against Wu last year, has been reported as interested in rematch. The Hill newspaper also quoted state Senator Bruce Starr, who has a developed base in the Hillsboro area: “Rob’s a good guy, he’s a good candidate. But he came up significantly short — 13-14 points — in what may be the best Republican year we’ve had probably since 1994. When and if my family and I make the decision to run, I’ll have a conversation with Rob and we’ll figure that out. I’m not worried about it right at this point.”

Starr would be one of the strongest Republican prospects, but the district is likely to be such that the odds going in are with the Democratic nominee. Probably. Wu’s situation has put Democratic leaders in a bind; while offering some general support for him, it has sounded more wary than hearty. They’re probably now at the point of preferring a new candidate, who could be built up over the next year and a half, to trying to patch up what would be a troubled Wu candidacy.

How does this play out?

Wu can run if he’s determined to, but the guess here is that he doesn’t, and reapportionment could offer an out for him. Negotiations between him and Democratic leadership seem likely to be intense, but there is a hammer here on the leadership side: They could run a candidate, whom they unite against, in the primary, with good odds (at this point).

Who might the Democrat be? There’s actually a rich bench now, many more prospects than a decade ago, including a number of Washington County, west Portland and northwest coast Democrats, and a few from the city or county level. Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner (elected statewide) who was a legislator from the Beaverton area; when first elected in 2002, he won a rare Democratic victory in a county then still strongly dominated by Republican legislators. State Senator Suzanne Bonamici (who chairs one of the reapportionment committees) has been mentioned as another prospect. Among others.

This much you can probably say at this point: The 1st district is likely to change hands in 2012, something that hasn’t been true in more than a decade.

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