Democratic challengers

Eric Burnette is the retired executive director of the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots and a Hood River resident who lives two blocks from Walden.

Michael Byrne is a stonemason and ski instructor living in Parkdale in Hood River County.

Jim Crary is a retired contract negotiator, attorney, and Vietnam era veteran who lives in the Ashland area. He was the Democratic nominee for Walden’s seat in 2016.

Raz E. Mason is a high school teacher and hospital chaplain from The Dalles in Wasco County.

Jennifer Neahring is a palliative care physician whose residence is in Bend.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner is a former engineer, city manager of Phoenix, Oregon, and Santa Clara, California, city council member who lives in Terrebone and spends time in Ashland.

Tim White is a retired Chrysler division chief financial officer who lives in Bend.

Two years ago, Jim Crary had the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District all to himself, the only candidate for his party’s nomination to run against incumbent Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River. Crary lost, and is eager for a rematch. But this year, he’s one of seven Democrats in the May 15 primary vying for a shot against Walden.

President Donald Trump’s election, and Walden’s key role in pushing Trump’s agenda through the Congress, have ignited Democratic opposition to the 10-term Republican congressman. Walden had a leadership role in enacting the tax cut, the repeal of net neutrality and the unsuccessful effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. With House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., announcing his retirement, Walden has even been mentioned as a dark-horse candidate for the top job.

Molly Woon, communications director for the Oregon Democratic Party, says Democrats are motivated as never before to topple Walden, who has consistently won re-election races with more than 60 percent of the vote.

“People are more in tune with the power of their vote,” Woon said. “The way we see it is 2018 is a whole new ballgame in terms of voter engagement and turnout. We have 1,400 new neighborhood leaders — including in 12 counties where we’ve never had anyone before. Most of those counties are in the 2nd Congressional District.”

Woon said the party has no favored candidate in the primary. It has no role in campaigning, though party leaders in various areas have endorsed one candidate or another. The main state party activity so far is to support an effort through ActBlue, the liberal crowd-sourced fundraising site, to create a pot of money that will go to whichever candidate emerges as the winner on May 15. The total so far: $4,200.

Woon says that is just the beginning, and the party will swing in behind the nominee once that person emerges from the pack.

“They will also have the full backing of the party and the resources we can provide,” Woon said.

But with a hefty fundraising and voter registration advantage, swamping Walden in a Democratic “Blue Wave” in the November general election remains a steep goal.

Walden is one of the best fundraisers in Washington, D.C. — for himself and other Republicans. Since 1999, Walden has raised $21 million and spent $18 million. He has about $3 million in the bank to use for his campaign or those he’s allied with. The biggest contributors have come from medical, pharmaceutical and broadcasting groups.

Campaigning in a traditional sense is a chore for any candidate in the 2nd Congressional District. It is the seventh-largest congressional district in the United States, covering 69,491 square miles — larger than any state east of the Mississippi River. It makes up about two-thirds of Oregon, including just about all areas from the Cascades east to the Idaho border. It covers 20 counties — including Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties.

President Trump won every county in the 2nd Congressional District, with the exception, ironically, of Hood River County, where Walden lives. Walden won them all, although his margin of victory in his home county was five votes.

Since the 2nd Congressional District was created in 1893, only two Democrats have won election — former Gov. Walter Pierce won during the Great Depression in 1932, and Al Ullman was elected in 1956, a year when Republicans were pushing for the unpopular idea of privatization of hydroelectric power in the Northwest.

Pierce served five terms and Ullman seven. But both were eventually unseated by Republicans. Republicans have held the seat since Denny Smith defeated Ullman in the “Reagan Revolution” election of 1980.

Walden’s first test will occur May 15 in the Republican primary, when he faces Grants Pass commercial truck driver Randy Pollock and Paul Romero, Jr., an appliance field technician from Prineville. Mark Roberts, a truck driver from Medford, is the only Independent Party candidate.

According to several national political forecasts, the seat is considered “safe Republican.” But Democrats retain hope of a long-shot victory in Oregon.

“Around the country, a lot of districts that were considered safe aren’t so safe anymore,” Woon said.

— Reporter: 541-525-5280, gwarner@bendbulletin