Bend is getting bluer, while Democrats are narrowing the gap with Republicans in other populated parts of Deschutes County, precinct-level election results released last week by the county clerk’s office show.
Voters in Bend elected three Democratic women to the City Council and boosted Democratic Congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner to a victory in Deschutes County. The Bend area, plus a sprawling precinct that contains much of the Deschutes National Forest, gave Democratic county commission candidates and state House candidate Eileen Kiely their only wins and voted for Gov. Kate Brown over hometown Republican Knute Buehler.
Although she didn’t win the election, McLeod-Skinner won big in Bend, capturing more than 55 percent of the vote in most of the city’s precincts. In Sisters and Sunriver, she held Greg Walden, R-Hood River, to a plurality of the vote.
Victories for Democrats in Bend and improving performances in the rest of the county continue a trend Deschutes County Democratic Party Chairman Jason Burge said he’s seen since moving to Bend six years ago. Since, Democrats have added 10,000 more registered voters, and Republicans have added 5,000, he said.
“Bend is very blue, and the county is turning purple,” Burge said.
In the Bend area, Republicans won just one seat: Buehler will be succeeded in the 54th House District by fellow Republican Cheri Helt, a restaurateur and member of the Bend-La Pine School Board. Democrats have 6,000 more voters in the district than Republicans. Helt breezed to victory after her Democratic opponent lost support over allegations of sexual misconduct and a Working Families Party candidate — who Democratic leaders initially pinned their hopes on — dropped out of the race after reporters discovered she falsely claimed a college degree in her voters’ pamphlet statement.
“Bend has definitely trended more Democrat in recent years,” said Paul DeWitt, the newly elected chairman of the county’s Republican party. “Gone are the days when a Republican could easily win office for House District 54.”
The Bend City Council is officially nonpartisan. Both political parties had a slate of candidates they supported. Sarah McCormick, a political newcomer who ran against incumbent City Councilor Barb Campbell and frequent candidate Ron “Rondo” Boozell, performed the best of the three Republican candidates.
McCormick won in eight of the city’s 20 precincts, and all but one of the precincts she won were east of the Bend Parkway. She lost citywide by about 2,400 votes.
City Councilor Bill Moseley, a Republican who lost his bid for mayor to fellow councilor Sally Russell, won the same five southeast and northeast Bend precincts that voted for Republican President Donald Trump in 2016. They were the same precincts where Moseley, who was first elected in 2016, had his best performances two years ago, too.
Newly elected City Councilor Gena Goodman-Campbell handily won in all Bend precincts. Her worst performance was in the 26th precinct in northeast Bend. She still captured 54.9 percent of the vote there.
Goodman-Campbell received more than twice the number of votes citywide as her primary challenger, Central Oregon Community College student life director Andrew Davis. Davis far outraised and outspent Goodman-Campbell, largely due to big donations from Republican-leaning political action committees representing business interests. Goodman-Campbell benefited from widespread name recognition from her run for the state House in 2016.
McLeod-Skinner won four of the five Bend precincts that voted for Trump in 2016. County Commission candidate James Cook, a Democrat, picked up two of them, and commission candidate Amy Lowes, also a Democrat, took three. Republican Patti Adair edged out Cook countywide by fewer than 1,000 votes, while Republican incumbent Tony DeBone beat Lowes by slightly more than 2,000 votes.
Brown performed the worst of any Democrat on the ballot in Bend, though she still won in the city. Her opponent, Buehler, represented Bend in the Legislature since 2014.
Brown lost seven of the 20 precincts in Bend and all 30 of the precincts outside Bend city limits. Buehler defeated her by nearly 10 points in Deschutes County, although the statewide race was quickly called for Brown.
At least some voters who supported McLeod-Skinner in the congressional race chose Buehler for governor. That ticket-splitting doesn’t make much sense, Burge said, but it matches with yard signs canvassers saw while campaigning.
Buehler has been critical of Trump, and DeWitt said that could have caused some Republicans to stay home. Republicans in the county support the president and were disheartened by Buehler’s criticism, he said.
DeWitt said he thought Democrats had an edge on voter enthusiasm for “negative reasons.”
“There’s so much hatred for the president,” DeWitt said. “That’s what I think motivated many Democrats to vote.”
More than 97,000 of Deschutes County’s roughly 135,000 registered voters turned in ballots, leading to a countywide turnout of 71.9 percent. That turnout rate is slightly lower than the 72.6 percent turnout of the last midterm election in 2014, when about 72,000 of the approximately 99,000 registered voters turned out.
Oregon’s motor voter law — which automatically registers eligible voters when they apply for, renew or replace a driver’s license, learner’s permit or ID card — took effect in the intervening four years. The Oregon Secretary of State reports the law resulted in more registered young people, who lag behind older generations when it comes to participating in elections.
Burge said he saw more enthusiasm around Democratic candidates this year than he has in previous elections, reflecting a nationwide trend.
“I think that the 2016 election certainly reawakened a lot of people,” he said.
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