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The sixth district


The Oregon Legislature, after fits and starts – you can take that in several ways – has approved redistricting maps for the next decade, and the most consequential of these is the reapportionment of the U.S. House districts. (Signature by Governor Kate Brown still awaits, but that seems not to be in doubt.) Just ahead of an election where partisan control of the House will be closely and tightly fought, as it appears now, control of every seat is critical.

Oregon is one of those states getting a new, additional, U.S House seat. Its current delegation includes, as it has for many years, four Democrats and one Republican. So which party will control the District 6?

Backing up a little: Of the six districts, three will not change really drastically, at least not in partisan lean. District 1 (in northwest Oregon) will shrink in geographic size in its Portland to the coast reach, but it will remain heavily Democratic. District 2, in eastern Oregon, will lose Bend and Hood River but pick up territory around Grants Pass and west of Medford; it will stay about as Republican as it is now (heavily). District 3, which long has had the largest chunk of Portland, retains most of that and eases east to Hood River, and will remain a deep shade of blue. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D), Cliff Bentz (R) and Earl Blumenauer (D) remain in sterling shape for re-election if they run again.

There was a little more action in District 4, which in weighing partisan support has been one of the closest in the country – in 2016, in fact, it was the closest congressional district in the country in the contest between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Democrat Peter DeFazio has won there for decades in part on his own strength. He must be delighted with the new map, which loses some of very Republican Josephine County and picks up Democratic Lincoln County; his position abruptly got stronger.

The more interesting action came in the remaining two districts, the old District 5, which has been represented by Democrat Kurt Schrader, and the brand new 6th.

The revised District 5 takes in a bit more of the Portland metro area but also shifts east, over the Cascades to swallow the city of Bend. There’s plenty of territory here favorable to each party, and like the old District 4, the two parties are fairly closely matched; in the case of the 5th, there’s a slim Democratic advantage. The new 5th overall, while shaped differently, actually is highly similar in partisan leans. It casts off some Democratic territory to the west (like Lincoln County) but picks up Bend, which now is more Democratic than Republican and has been getting bluer with each cycle. Schrader lives in Canby, which is inside the new as well as old 5th district.

The new 6th district, then, lies to the west of the new 5th, on the west side of the northern part of the Willamette Valley. It includes southern and southwestern suburbs of Portland (which may provide about a third of the district’s population), the city of McMinnville, the capital city of Salem, and lots of rural area around these places. As a whole, it is estimated to lean Democratic by about 7%. That means a win for a Republican here is not unrealistic, but the climb will be steeper than for a Democrat. (Disclosure note: I live in Yamhill County, which will be in the center – in some ways at the heart – of the new district.)

After complaining bitterly about an earlier iteration by Democrats of a congressional districting map, Republicans took a look at the new one – the one that passed on Monday – and some of them concluded that, while the numbers are a little softer and more competitive, Democrats still are highly likely to get what they want – five of the six House seats in the new Congress, rather than four of six.

That’s not settled yet. District 5 and 6 are close enough that the partisan balances don’t represent a complete lock; if in either district Republicans field a strong candidate and campaign against a lesser Democratic counterpart, they have a realistic shot. And right now we don’t know who those candidates will be or what their campaigns will look like.

That said, for now, if you want to put down money on which party gets the newly-minted congressional seat out of Oregon, the smarter money would be on the Democrats.

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