OR: The close races

Some posts back we took a look at what might be some of the most vulnerable, at-risk Oregon House races according to party registration. There are, of course, other metrics too, and here’s one: The districts which have seen the closest races in recent years.

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

This is not perfect apples and apples, of course, since the districts have changed with redistricting. For the most part, though, they haven’t changed so much that a look at the closest becomes altogether useless.

(Material for this post is drawn out of the just about to be released Oregon Political Field Guide, pictured and linked to at the left.)

In the last decade, the very closest Oregon House race was in House 28, in Washington County, when in 2002 Democrat Jeff Barker squeezed out a 41-vote win over Republican Keith Parker. Barker is still there, running again this year, but this doesn’t seem like one of the contenders to watch most closely. Barker went on to win 2004 and 2006 in landslides, was unopposed in 2008, and won with about 57% in the Republican year 2010.

The next two closest races in the last decade were also in 2002, wins by Democrat Betty Komp in District 22 (in the Salem-Woodburn area), and by Derrick Kitts in District 30. Komp was closely challenged in 2006 and 2010 (and that 2010 opponent is on the ballot again), so that’s a district worth watching.

So is Washington County’s 30, though Kitts, who left to run for Congress, is long gone. He was replaced by Democrat David Edwards, who in 2010 was replaced by Republican Shawn Lindsay. In District 30, no candidate of either party has gotten as much as 57% of the vote, so this is clearly a seat to attend to.

The next closest races may be a little less indicative, though they suggest the unexpected places where close contests can develop. In 2006, Republican John Dallum, running for the second time in the sprawling east-of-Cascades 59th, was held to 50.68% of the vote in what would seem to be one of the stronger Republican districts in the state. Indeed, Republicans have returned to landslide levels here since, but time and change can make for surprises.

And time can change a district. In 2004 the closest House race in Oregon was in District 10, when Republican Alan Brown barely held his coastal district 10 seat after a challenged by Democrat Jean Cowan. That close race was foreshadowed by another very close win (51%) by Brown in 2002, and in 2006 Cowan narrowly (51.58%) defeated him. Those three races in District 10, in fact, account for three of the 20 most competitive legislative races in Oregon in the last decade. But: Cowan was unopposed in 2008 and won decisively in 2010. As she leaves it this year, the district seems to have a clear Democratic lean. But how genuine that lean is may be a question for the fall.

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