PORTLAND — Two Congressional races are getting national attention in Oregon’s primary election Tuesday but anemic turnout in the vote-by-mail state threatens to dampen excitement around one of the nation’s most expensive Democratic House races and a tight Democratic contest between a centrist incumbent and a progressive challenger.
The primaries for the 5th and 6th U.S. House districts are playing out in a state that’s become a right-wing target after sometimes-violent protests in Portland following George Floyd’s murder, surging gun crime and an ongoing homelessness crisis in the city. Those problems have given Republicans a megaphone and raised the stakes for Democrats.
Another key race, for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, is wide open for the first time in decades as Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio retires after 35 years. Changes to that district’s boundaries, however, are expected to favor Democrats even more strongly.
In Oregon, nonaffiliated and third-party voters together make up the largest group of voters and they won’t find the Congressional primaries on their ballots. By Monday, only 18% of voters had mailed back a ballot but voters have until Tuesday to postmark their ballots under a new law.
Money has poured into the Democratic race for a newly created 6th Congressional District seat that features a relatively unknown political newcomer backed by a cryptocurrency kingpin and a three-term state lawmaker who, if elected, would become Oregon’s first Hispanic woman in Congress. The race has attracted a total of 16 candidates combined for the House seat created by the 2020 U.S. Census reapportionment.
The nine Democrats competing in the primary have spent more than $18 million combined and drawn more than $13 million in outside money to date, making the race one of the most costly among Democratic primaries nationwide, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics.
Top among those is Carrick Flynn, who is backed by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s political action committee. Flynn appears to be in a close race with state Rep. Andrea Salinas, who was endorsed last week by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as a “progressive champion” in the district, which is 20% Hispanic.
Seven Republicans are running for the 6th district seat, including Ron Noble, a moderate who currently serves in the Oregon House.
In the 5th District, seven-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader faces a stiff challenge from progressive candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner in a dramatically redrawn district that leans a little less blue. Elections officials warned that problems with blurred barcodes on some ballots in a suburban Portland county that includes many 5th District voters could delay election results.
The district, which once stretched to the Pacific Coast, now reaches east to include Bend, where Schrader has less name recognition. Biden recently endorsed Schrader, a veterinarian and former state lawmaker, but he has alienated progressive members of his party over the course of his last term.
He was one of two House Democrats to vote against a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, in part because he didn’t want the bill to include an increase in the minimum wage. He also voted in committee against a Biden-supported plan that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate outpatient medication prices with pharmaceutical companies.
But some primary voters are concerned that McLeod-Skinner, an attorney and former city planner, wouldn’t be as competitive in November, particularly given that issues likecrime and homelessness are even on the minds of moderate Democrats.
Five Republicans are vying to advance to November’s general election in the 5th district.