Primary voting in Oregon starts well before May 17 (copy)

A drive-thru drop box for ballots in Multnomah County.  

A pair of political switches are making noise in Oregon politics — one involving money for congressional races and the other over plans to substitute the Democratic nominee for a key state Senate race.

"Red to Blue" funds fight "blue to red" results

A Democratic Party group formed to flip Republican seats in Congress is giving money to three Democrats in Oregon.

But the districts have no Republican incumbent and have voter tilts that should favor Democrats in the Nov. 8 election.

The "Red To Blue" designation from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee normally highlights districts where the party will put in a big effort to flip Republican seats.

But in an announcement late last week, three open congressional seats in Oregon favoring Democrats were tapped to receive the $5 million boost in help.

The boost in aid from the party was awarded to candidates Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the 5th Congressional District, Val Hoyle in the 4th Congressional District, and Andrea Salinas in the 6th Congressional District. Each is expected to receive about $5 million by receiving the designation.

McLeod-Skinner won a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby. She'll face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the equivalent of an open seat. The district has the narrowest Democratic tilt in Oregon and Republicans have named Chavez-DeRemer one of their "Young Guns" receiving extra national help.

Hoyle, currently labor commissioner, is seeking to succeed U.S Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, in a Democratic-leaning district that's drawn a well-financed Republican in Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg. Skarlatos gave DeFazio the closest re-election race of his 36-year career in 2020. Redistricting has given the seat a more Democratic tilt, but Democrats are taking no chances.

Salinas, a state representative from Lake Oswego, is the nominee in the new 6th Congressional District centered around Salem that Oregon received due to population increases over the past decade.

Republicans jumped on Democrats spending money to save districts instead of flipping them. 

“Republicans and Democrats agree: No Democrat is safe in this environment,” Mike Berg, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Roll Call, a Washington, D.C. political publication.

Democrats countered that with redistricting, keeping what theoretically are "blue" seats in the Democratic column on Nov. 8 was part of the plan. With Democrats holding onto a razor-thin 220-209 majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, with six vacancies, no race can be taken for granted.

McLeod-Skinner's upset of Schrader has caused the Cook Political Report, Politico, and the University of Virginia Center for Politics to move the 5th district to a "toss-up" rating. The 4th and 6th districts remain "likely Democratic."

The 1st district seat held by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonameci, D-Beaverton, and the 3rd District seat held by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Portland, are rated "solid Democratic." The 2nd Congressional District seat of U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, was packed with as many Republicans as possible in the eastern and southwestern parts of the state.

"Democrats re-drew the Oregon congressional map with an eye on winning five of the six seats," Kyle Kondik, the senior analyst for congressional races at the Center for Politics, wrote during an overview of Oregon races published in March.

Senate switcheroo squabble

One of the hazards of ambition is that an attempt to move up in the political pecking order can come at the cost of your current position in some cases. 

Several state House members opted to not seek a new two-year term in order to run for another office. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, are running for governor. Rep. Mark Meek, D-Oregon City, and Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, are running for state Senate. If they lose, they're out of a job.

The new 6th Congressional District, drew Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, and Rep. Ron Noble, R-McMinnville.

The May Democratic primary was won by Salinas. Alonso Leon finished seventh. Noble came in a distant second in the GOP to Mike Erickson. They too are jobless after those elected Nov. 8 are sworn into office. Salinas would have to beat Erickson to avoid a similar fate.

Or maybe not — at least for Alonso Leon. 

On the same day Alonso Leon lost her bid for Congress, Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson won the Democratic primary for the open Senate District 11. Swenson's 44% of the vote was good enough to beat former Keizer council member Rich Walsh with 34% and Anthony Rosilez, the executive director of the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, with 21%.

Nearly a month after the election, Swenson said he was having second thoughts and didn't want to run after all. 

“Campaigning for the Oregon State Senate in the Democratic primary taught me many things, particularly in Woodburn, where I was reminded of how much I appreciate the chance to serve as our mayor,” Swenson told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “This wasn’t an easy decision to make, the chance to serve as a state senator was also calling.”

According to a report in the Oregon Capital Chronicle, Swenson called Alonso Leon and suggested that if he stepped aside, she should seek to be named as the Democratic nominee. Alonso Leon confirmed she would make the move.

Under state law, a candidate who wins a primary and decides not to run in the general election is not automatically replaced by the runner-up. The new party nominee is chosen by district precinct members of the candidate's party. Swenson wants Alonso Leon and Alonso Leon wants the spot.

Democratic primary runners-up Walsh and Rosilez cried foul. Some Republicans and Democrats saw a possible conspiracy to save Alonso Leon, a rising star in the state party. The daughter of migrant farmworkers and an immigrant to the United States, Alonso Leon grew up in Gervais and Woodburn. She has been in the state House since 2017.

Former Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, who served as Walsh's campaign chair for the state Senate, and supported Alonso Leon for Congress, told reporters that he did not believe that Alonso Leon was involved in any plan to substitute her for Swenson if she didn't win the U.S. House seat. But, Clem said, the switch nonetheless did not look good to the public.

Swenson denied any such pre-election plan to the Chronicle.

"Nice person though I am, I would not have spent three months and knocked on 3,000 doors for somebody else," he said.

All of the controversy helps Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who easily won the Republican primary. Thatcher, a conservative Republican who sometimes broke with the more mainstream Senate GOP caucus, had been redistricted out of her Senate District 13 seat.

Thatcher's home was put in the 11th District instead, which Dave's Redistricting, a nationally-recognized analysis website, forecasts has a 51%-43% Democratic tilt, with 5% listed as "other."

That's enough to make the district a competitive race for Republicans. But the analysis also points out that the district has the lowest percentage of white voters of any Senate district on the ballot — 56% and the highest percentage of minority voters — 44%.

Swenson noted that fact in a statement announcing he would seek to have Alonso Leon replace him on the ballot.

“Teresa is a transformational leader with a track record of public service to our community and she has my wholehearted support,” Swenson said in a written statement. “Senate District 11 is the most diverse district in Oregon, and there are currently no Latino/a members of the Oregon Senate. In a representative democracy, representation matters.”

Democratic officials say they will announce their plans for choosing Swenson's replacement by the end of the month. Walsh and Rosilez said they would seek the nomination.

Correction: Former Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, was campaign chair for Rick Walsh in his bid for the Democratic nomination in Senate District 11. An earlier version of this story erroneously said Clem supported Eric Swenson. The Oregon Capital Bureau regrets the error.

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