A business outlook on 2014 Primary candidates

Associated Oregon Industries
Oregon’s largest business advocate

Two things.  First, would State Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) face a primary challenge from the left? On some very key business, management, and environmental issues, Senator Johnson has joined with Republicans to block measures harmful to Oregon’s business community. With a slim 16-14 Democratic majority in the Senate, Senator Johnson’s vote is often the deciding vote. Many liberal groups have expressed frustration with Senator Johnson, but on filing day, no one emerged to challenge her on the Democratic ticket.

Second, would there be any unexpected legislators opting against running for re-election? There was only one – freshman Representative Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro) unexpectedly dropped out, creating an open seat in House District 29 (Hillsboro, Forest Grove). Other than Representative Unger, there were 14 retirements in the Oregon House (none in the Oregon Senate). None of the 14 retirements in the House are in particularly competitive swing districts.

Did any incumbents pick up a primary challenger?

Yes, but at probably the same level as in years past. What was particularly striking about this year’s crop of candidates is that there were so many rumored primary challenges that did not materialize. Over the past several months, there were many rumors of potential primary challenges – particularly coming from the Tea Party – against Republican legislators deemed too moderate. These threats were used to leverage legislators on their votes on critical issues. And as usual, the threats were mostly ineffective because the primary challenges mostly did not materialize. It should be a lesson to legislators that “talk” about credible primary challenges is just that – “talk” – and much easier said than done.

Republican legislators who picked up primary opponents were Representatives Vic Gilliam (Silverton), Jim Thompson (Dallas) and John Huffman (The Dalles). Democratic legislators who picked up primary opponents included Speaker Tina Kotek (Portland) and Representative Barbara Smith Warner (Portland). No incumbent Senator will face a primary challenge.

Democrats hold a 16-14 majority in the Senate. What must Democrats do to retain or expand their majority?

Democrats simply have to defend their turf to keep their majority. This means fending off two very credible Republican challenges in Senate District 3 (Medford/Ashland) and Senate District 11 (Salem, Woodburn). In District 3, Democratic Senator Alan Bates is re-matched against Republican Dave Dotterrer. Bates won this election four years ago by about 250 votes. In Senate District 11, Senate President Peter Courtney is facing a challenge from Republican Marion County Commissioner Patti Milne.

Democrats can pick up an insurance seat by winning in Senate District 8 (Albany, Corvallis). This heavily Democratic district is currently represented by Republican Senator Betsy Close, who is being challenged by Democratic State Representative Sara Gelser. This is the most obvious pick-up opportunity for Senate Democrats.

Democrats will also contest three Republican Senators who won tough races four years ago in Senate Districts 15 (Hillsboro, Forest Grove), Senate District 20 (Clackamas County) and Senate District 26 (Hood River, Clackamas). Republican Senator Bruce Starr will defend his District 15 seat against Democrat Chuck Riley. This is a rematch from the 2010 race in which Starr prevailed by about 2,000 votes. Republican Senator Alan Olsen will defend his seat against former Clackamas County Commissioner Jamie Damon in Senate District 20, a district that Olsen won by less than 300 votes in 2010. In Senate District 26, Republican Senator Chuck Thomsen will defend his seat against Democratic newcomer Robert Bruce.

What must Republicans do to gain seats in the Senate?

Simply put, Republican Senators Betsy Close, Bruce Starr, Alan Olsen and Chuck Thomsen must all defend their seats. This will be a challenge. All four of these districts have Democratic registration advantages, although each district has a history of voting for Republican legislative candidates.

In addition to defending all of their seats, Republicans will first look to Senate District 3 for their most obvious pick-up opportunity, then Senate District 11.

Is there a wild card in the Senate?

Yes. There is likely to be a very credible Independent candidate in Senate District 19 (Lake Oswego, Tualatin) running against Democratic Senator Richard Devlin who has the potential to shake things up and make a competitive race out of an otherwise safe Democratic district.

Democrats Hold a 34-26 majority in the House. What are the key races?

In our view, there are only eight key races out of 60 total House seats. Five of these seats are held by Democrats, three by Republicans. Republicans will have to run the table in order to capture a 30-30 tie or better. Democrats will have to defend their turf, and could even absorb a few losses, to keep their majority intact. The swing seats are:

House District 20 (West Salem, Monmouth) will be an open seat. It’s a true toss-up in terms of voter registration, but with a strong historical preference for electing Republicans. The departure of Republican legislator Vicki Berger will put this district in play. Probably the best pick-up opportunity for Democrats, although it would be a stretch.

House District 22 (Woodburn) – Democratic Representative Betty Komp will again face a credible challenger. But Komp is popular, and this district has proven to be fool’s gold for Republicans for as long as Komp has been in office.

House District 29 (Hillsboro, Forest Grove) – Open seat currently held by Democrats, this district has shown time and time again that it can go either way despite 8-point Democratic registration edge. Very competitive district that probably favors Republicans in non-presidential year elections.

House District 30 (Hillsboro) – Currently held by Democratic Representative Joe Gallegos, it’s viewed as a swing seat despite 7% Democratic registration edge. But with the exception of 2010, it has elected Democratic legislators over the past decade.

House District 40 (Oregon City) – Currently held by Democratic Representative Brent Barton, this race will be a rematch of his 2010 race against Republican Steve Newgard in which Barton won by 300 votes. Strong Democratic registration advantage, but emerging as a true swing district.

House District 51 (Clackamas) – Another district that goes back and forth, it’s currently held by Democratic Representative Shemia Fagan. It will be interesting to see how this district performs in a non-presidential election.

House District 52 (Hood River, Clackamas) – Currently held by Republican Mark Johnson, this district has a moderate Democratic registration edge but still favors a pragmatic Republican, which Johnson most certainly is.

House District 54 (Bend) – On paper, this is a swing district. But in practice, it still favors Republican candidates. This seat, being vacated by outgoing Republican State Representative Jason Conger, will get plenty of time and attention from both parties.

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