SALEM — Even before House Democrats pulled their support for Nathan Boddie, the Bend city councilor seeking a seat in Salem, Oregon Republicans were planning an aggressive effort to hold onto the 54th House District in the 2018 election. The district is at the heart of the GOP drive across the state to fend off a Democratic supermajority in the state Legislature.
“We are confident we can find success,” said Preston Mann, spokesman for Promote Oregon Leadership PAC , the political arm of the House Republicans.
Democrats hold a 35-25 majority in the House and a 17-13 majority in the Senate. They need just one additional seat in each chamber to have a three-fifths supermajority that would allow them to pass spending and tax legislation without the need to convince at least one Republican to join them.
Democrats have already lost two candidates who won their primaries, only to drop out.
Paul Diller, who won the Democratic primary in Senate District 13 in the Salem area, has dropped his bid to unseat Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer. Ryan Spiker, who won the Democratic primary in House District 26 in suburban Portland, has dropped his bid against Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls.
The Democratic Party can select replacement candidates, but it’s at best a significant speed bump on the drive to win two districts where Republicans hold seats but Democratic voter registration and/or the number of unaffiliated voters has been on the rise.
While both parties have targeted a few key Senate districts, the fight over control of the House has more battlefields.
House District 54, which includes most of Bend, has been a key focus as the Democratic voter registration edge has continued to grow despite victories by Republican moderates Jason Conger and Knute Buehler in recent elections. Buehler has opted to leave the seat and run for governor, with Bend-La Pine School Board member Cheri Helt as the GOP nominee trying to keep the seat in the Republican column. Helt has raised nearly $188,000 and spent $141,000 in the campaign so far — more than four times the amount raised and spent by Boddie.
Republicans are also looking to pick off what they believe are vulnerable Democratic incumbents whose districts have shown they will support Republican candidates in the past.
Teri Grier is mounting a second attempt to unseat Rep. Caddy McKeown, R-Coos Bay, in House District 9. McKeown won by about 1,000 votes in 2016 in a three-way race that included a Libertarian Party candidate. The district voted for President Trump in 2016.
The GOP is also targeting House District 32, in the far northwest corner of the state around Astoria, where there is an open seat in a district that also went for Trump two years ago.
Republicans also have hopes of winning three districts won by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Republican, in 2016. These include districts represented by Rep. Paul Evans in House District 20 in Monmouth, Rep. Mark Meek in House District 40 in Clackamas, and Rep. Janelle Bynum in District 51 in Clackamas.
“All three campaigned as moderates, but their voting records have been anything but,” Mann said.
For their parts, Democrats are still hoping the state’s political demographics that have made the Republicans the third-place group among registered voters, behind Democrats and nonaffiliated voters, will shape 2018 electoral outcomes to win supermajorities. They point to the widespread unpopularity of President Trump as additional fuel to get voters to the polls in November.
“From Astoria to Bend, Medford to Salem, Wilsonville to Hood River, Oregonians are energized and ready for strong Democratic leadership,” said Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, in a recent statement.
FuturePAC, the political arm of the House Democrats, fielded candidates in 55 of 60 House Districts at stake in the election. Half of those bidding for office are female.
Along with seeking to return all their incumbents to office, Democrats have targeted districts with Republican officeholders or open seats.
The Democratic challengers include Michelle Blum Atkinson in House District 6 in Medford, Marty Wilde in House District 11 in central Linn and Lane counties, Mike Ellison in House District 19 in Salem, Tiffiny Mitchell in House District 32 on the North Coast, Rachel Prusak in House District 37 in West Linn and Tualatin, and Anna Williams in House District 52 in Sandy and Hood River.
Boddie had been on the list of key races, but his name has been stripped off the FuturePAC website page touting candidates.
“Despite our excitement about the electoral opportunity in Bend, we’ve made the decision to discontinue our support of Dr. Boddie’s campaign,” Williamson said. “While this is politically disappointing, it’s the right thing to do.”
Boddie has remained in the race, while Democrats have declined to release more information about the nature and content of allegations that led to the action against him.
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