Democrats Hope to Keep Seat in Oregon Special
Most eyes will be fixed Tuesday night on the Republican presidential primary in Florida. But for Democrats, the real action is taking place 3,000 miles away, in Oregon.
With Tuesday’s mail-in special election to replace former Rep. David Wu, who announced his resignation in July after a sex scandal involving the 18-year-old daughter of one of his campaign contributors, Democrats are hoping to avoid a repeat of the New York 9th Congressional District special election last fall. There, Republicans won the Democratic seat previously held by Anthony Weiner, who resigned after a scandal of his own.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has poured $1.3 million into this traditionally safe district for the party, and the odds of keeping the seat appear to be in the DCCC’s favor. Democratic state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici led in an early poll of the race. Democrats also have a registration advantage here and are leading in the number of ballots returned so far.
Bonamici has tried to make this race more about what lies ahead and less about the ex-lawmaker she wants to replace. But her Republican opponent, businessman Rob Cornilles, released an ad last week tying Bonamici to the disgraced Wu.
In many ways, this race foreshadows the many to come in November. Through television ads, the DCCC has attempted to paint Cornilles as an out-of-touch Tea Party extremist. Outside groups such as the House Majority PAC and EMILY’s List also have attacked the Republican through ads or mailers.
Cornilles, who runs a sports business consulting company, has cast his opponent as an insider and has positioned himself as a job creator who wants to balance the federal budget. To lighten the race amid the campaign attacks, Cornilles recently posed as comedian Stephen Colbert’s “long lost brother” and taped a video requesting the “Colbert Bump.”
Still, he faces an uphill battle in this Portland-area district that President Obama won overwhelmingly in 2008. Cornilles lost to Wu in 2010, a good year for Republicans, by 13 points.
Regardless of Tuesday’s results, Republicans see this special election as a win for the GOP heading into an election year where Democrats are avidly working to reclaim their majority in the lower chamber.
“Rob Cornilles really made Democrats sweat in a district that should have been a cakewalk for them,” Daniel Scarpinato, a press secretary for the NRCC, told RealClearPolitics. “Their plan to win back the House is basically a fairy tale if they’re spending over a million dollars to retain an Obama district.
“If they’re spending this much on a seat that’s in a deep-blue district, then how much are they going to have to spend to win back all these other districts they’re targeting?”
Democrats, though, see this kind of spending as an investment.
“We never take any race for granted,” DCCC Spokesman Jesse Ferguson said. “The DCCC made smart, strategic investments in a race where voters aren’t used to special elections to prevent the Republican candidate from hiding his extreme Tea Party roots and dangerous views on Medicare.”
National Republicans took a similar course of action in a special election last summer in Nevada (to replace Dean Heller, who had moved to the U.S. Senate) to hold on to traditionally safe House seat, spending over $1 million in television ads despite a registration advantage. The NRCC spent $85,000 on the Oregon race.
Voters in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to turn in their ballots.