Writings and observations

OR: A little 4th history

An indication of the lower-key level of Oregon major-office races this year: We just received a fundraising letter from Senator Jeff Merkley, who’s up for re-election in 2014. None of the congressional office races at this point have the feel of being nailbiters.

OR political field guide
Based on material from the upcoming Oregon Political Field Guide

The most interesting of the bunch may be in the Oregon 4th, the seat in the southwest corner of the state, which was in 2010 plenty lively and – since the candidates in the general election at least are slated to be the same – is apt to be again this time. The incumbent is Democrat Peter DeFazio, who has held the seat for a very long time, since 1986. But what does history tell us about the seat?

It was once more Republican than at present – it has in the past included Republican Linn County – but in the last decade it has had a Democratic registration edge. The Democratic registration margin between late 2010 and February this year (the latter number: Democrats 39.85%, Republicans 33.26%) actually diminished very slightly, but when registration kicks in at Corvallis, much of which was added to the district with redistricting, it is likely to grow.

DeFazio has been a formidable vote-getter. The record is that with the exceptions of his first general election in 1986 and his most recent in 2010, he has gotten landslides every time out – his low point being 61.05% in 2004. Twice, in 2008 and 1990, Republicans passed on filing against him (in which cases he took 83% and 86% of the vote, respectively).

He has had nine different Republican opponents, three (counting Robinson) opposing him twice. How did the other pairs of races do?

Jim Feldkamp filed in 2004 and held DeFazio to that 61.05% win, which encouraged him to try again. But in 2006 he did not as well, taking almost exactly the same percentage of the vote, but DeFazio actually increased his share (meaning less went to minor candidates). One difference between the two races: DeFazio and Feldkamp reported almost exactly the same amounts in fundraising in 2004, but two years later DeFazio increased his total while Feldkamp raised less (resulting in a DeFazio edge approaching two to one).

The other rerun challenger was Republican John Newkirk in 1994 and 1996. Newkirk, who was heavily outspent, actually dropped in his raw vote total from 1994 (an off-year) to 1996 (a presidential), while DeFazio gained.

Not a lot of encouragement there for the idea of a stronger run the second time around.

DeFazio’s closest general election for Congress remains his first, in 1986, against Republican Bruce Long: He was held to a 54% win. That was also the only race, at least until recently, in which DeFazio was outspent (about $333,000 to about $295,000).

His next-closest was the 2010 Robinson race, in which Robinson and DeFazio each reported raising almost exactly the same amount of money – about $1.3 million (much more than any candidate had ever raised in this district before) – but where hundreds of thousands of dollars was also thrown into the race on Robinson’s behalf by an independent committee. In that Republican year, with money stacked against him, FeFazio was held to 54.59%.

Robinson’s re-entry (and that of his son in the Democratic primary) may make for another live-wire contest. But his early fundraising has been so-so; DeFazio hgas been out-raising him nearly 2-1, and the outside funding that so influenced the 2010 race hasn’t materialized yet. Often, when it comes to second races, those kinds of external supports are harder to get. But this may be the best watch this year among Oregon’s U.S. House seats.

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