Republicans say they’re encouraged by money and support that’s been flowing to state House hopeful Cheri Helt in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations aimed at her Democratic opponent, but they plan to campaign hard until Election Day.
Helt’s campaign has brought in slightly more than $100,000 in contributions since initial allegations that Democratic candidate and Bend City Councilor Nathan Boddie spoke and acted in a sexist way, used a homophobic slur and encouraged illegal drinking surfaced in late June. Since allegations that Boddie groped a Bend woman at a bar several years ago caused local Democrats and Gov. Kate Brown to urge Boddie to step down, Helt’s announced more endorsements from an education group and a handful of local Democrats.
Helt, a restaurateur and member of the Bend-La Pine School Board, said the allegations haven’t changed how she’s running her campaign.
“I’m focused on what I want to accomplish in Salem,” she said. “My race has never been about my opponent, nor will it ever be for me.”
Democrats and Republicans have targeted the Bend House seat, which is held by Rep. Knute Buehler, the Republican candidate for governor. Democrats need to pick up only one more seat in the state House to achieve a supermajority that would allow them to pass new taxes without Republican support, and Bend’s demographics made the 54th House District an appealing target for Democrats. Republicans, meanwhile, were banking on support from nonaffiliated and Independent voters to prevent a supermajority.
Democrats hold a significant voter registration edge in the Bend-based district. As of June 30, it had about 18,600 Democrats and 12,900 Republicans, according to voter registration data from the Deschutes County Clerk’s office.
But the district’s second-largest voting bloc are voters who aren’t affiliated with any political party — it has about 16,300 nonaffiliated voters, and another 3,100 who belong to the Independent Party of Oregon. Helt won the Independent Party’s nomination as a write-in candidate.
Preston Mann, a spokesman for Promote Oregon Leadership PAC, the campaign arm of the House Republicans, said a perception that Bend is a very blue city is overblown. Since 2012, Bend’s been represented in the state Legislature by moderate Republicans Buehler and Jason Conger, Mann said, and it makes sense for Bend voters to elect a “fiscally responsible, socially inclusive” Republican like Helt, who frequently cites her support for LGBTQ rights, abortion rights and gun reform.
“I think we’re as committed to HD 54 as we’ve ever been,” Mann said.
He said the PAC is focused on supporting Helt in a positive campaign but did note an uptick in fundraising since allegations about Boddie arose. Since June 25, Helt’s received $25,000 each from the Oregon Business and Industry Candidate PAC and ActionPAC, a relatively new political action committee formed by a pair of Republican political consultants. She received contributions of more than $1,000 from political action committees for car dealers, agriculture, the timber industry, wine and beer distributors and rental property owners.
In the past week, Helt announced support from the education advocacy group Stand for Children and several Democrats, including fellow members of the Bend-La Pine School Board and former Bend City Councilor Mark Capell.
“There’s a long way until Election Day,” Mann said. “We’re very encouraged by the support for Cheri.”
Primary election results didn’t look particularly promising for the Helt campaign. While neither Helt nor Boddie faced opposition in their respective primaries, Boddie gathered significantly more votes than she did.
Republicans and Democrats had high-profile state or federal races on the May ballot — Republicans chose who would challenge Brown, while Democrats selected their own challenger to Republican congressman Greg Walden — and Boddie received about 6,700 votes from registered Democrats to Helt’s roughly 4,100 from Republicans.
Helt said she wasn’t concerned by primary results because she tries to reach across the aisle. She said she’s been busy knocking on doors and meeting with voters who want to talk about schools, health care and growth issues.
“I really want to represent everybody from Bend,” Helt said. “If we want to end partisan politics, we have to be willing to look at people for people.”
Patti Adair, chairwoman of the Deschutes County Republican Party and a candidate for county commissioner, said party volunteers haven’t started canvassing for Helt but expect to do so as the election nears.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; firstname.lastname@example.org