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Heavy primary spending marks start of 2022 races for Oregon Congressional seats

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By GARY A. WARNER

Oregon Capital Bureau

President Joe Biden is visiting Portland on Thursday for his first election-year trip beyond the Washington, D.C. area.

Despite a lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the president is coming to Oregon, where one of the first primaries of 2022 is less than a month away on May 17.

Though the state has just 2.9 million voters, Oregon’s one U.S. Senate seat and six U.S. House seats are part of the electoral math both Republicans and Democrats are puzzling over in 2022.

Democrats hold a 221-209 majority in the House, with five vacancies. The Senate is split 50-50, with 35 seats up on ballots around the nation.

The partisan split won’t be known until after the November election. But new campaign finance reports filed last week show heavy spending by candidates jockeying to carry their party’s banner in the fall.

The Federal Elections Commission released candidates’ financial reports covering the first three months of 2022.

Much of the attention in Oregon has gone to the free-for-all race for the new 6th Congressional District seat centered around Salem. With no incumbent in the race, 16 candidates have signed up to run in the primary.

The race received national attention last week with the revelation that a Democratic PAC tied to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had directed $1 million to Carrick Flynn, a political newcomer with ties to cryptocurrency entrepreneurs.

The other Democratic candidates, who include two state lawmakers, cried foul and were joined by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, in condemning the unusual primary boost.

But an expected slam-dunk U.S. Senate race and a pair of scrambled congressional races could play outsized roles in deciding which party swings the gavels when a new Congress is sworn in next January.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, was the most prodigious fundraiser, reporting he’s received $11 million since the beginning of 2021 for his bid to win another six-year term in the seat he’s held since 1996.

The five Republicans vying to run against Wyden in November raised less than $400,000 put together.

The Oregon election is listed in major national forecasts as a “safe” Democratic seat. But Wyden is taking no chances, reporting he has over $7 million in the bank.

When the new political maps were approved in September, both Democrats and Republicans agreed that Democrats were a prohibitive favorite in the 1st and 3rd U.S. House districts, while Republicans were a lock on the 2nd district.

The financial reports reflect those odds with donations piling up for incumbents. 

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, reported raising $605,435 between Jan. 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022. G. Scott Phillips, a Democrat running in the May primary has raised $20,944. Republican Armidia Murray did not have enough contributions to be required to file a report.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, reported raising $795,393 over the same time period. Republican Joanna Harbour, who lost the 2020 election to Blumenauer, reported raising no money so far in 2022, but has $2,408 in her campaign fund from previous time periods.

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, the state’s lone Republican in the delegation to Washington, D.C., reported $640,758 over the same 15 months. Democrat Joseph Yetter received $10,312.

The highest stakes of the six U.S. House races may be in the 5th Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, faces challenges from the left and right in a district that’s been radically reconfigured by redistricting. He’s seeking to return to Congress in a district whose 2022 boundaries contain less than half the registered voters of his current seat.

The latest campaign finance reports show Schrader has raised more than $1 million in the past three months, about twice as much as his primary challenger, Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne.

Schrader reported raising $713,641 from his main campaign committee. The FEC also reported Schrader received $385,311 from independent expenditure committees, nearly all of it from a group called Center Forward Committee. It backs Schrader, but he does not officially control its fundraising and spending. 

Spending also rose sharply, with Schrader reporting $1,567,994 in expenditures. He has $2,703,441 in the bank, including money he raised in 2021.

McLeod-Skinner reported raising $545,505 and spending $235,395. She has $310,110 in the bank. 

While trailing in money, McLeod-Skinner has touted her string of endorsements by Democratic activists frustrated by Schrader’s tepid support and occasional opposition to Biden’s legislative agenda in Congress.

McLeod-Skinner has drawn endorsements from the Democratic Party committees in Deschutes, Clackamas, Linn, and Marion counties, four of the five counties that make up the district. She’s also been endorsed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union that represents 24,000 grocery workers. The Oregon Education Association, the union representing 41,000 teachers, endorsed McLeod-Skinner, despite its parent organization, the National Education Association, giving Schrader an A grade on his votes on education legislation.

McLeod-Skinner’s campaign put out an email after the campaign finance reports were released saying that more funds were needed to make up for the cancellation by Schrader of a primary debate.

“Enthusiasm is continuing to build around Jamie, but unfortunately, we fell short of our mid-month fundraising goal last Friday,” the message said. 

The winner of the Democratic primary will face the victor of the Republican vote on May 17. Bend businessman Jimmy Crumpacker and former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer were the top two fundraisers, according to FEC reports.

Contributions to the two were neck-and-neck, with Crumpacker raising $467,195 since October of 2021, while Chavez-DeRemer received $455,930. But Chavez-DeRemer has spent $247,415, 10 times more than the $29,226 that Crumpacker reported. Crumpacker had $437,968 in the bank, while DeRemer reported $208,515 in the bank.

A joint political action committee created to fund both Chavez-DeRemer and 4th district GOP candidate Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg had brought in only $1,800 since it was created, according to FEC reports.

Skarlatos lost a close 2020 race to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield. He immediately launched plans for a rematch in 2022. He’s raised $1,774,805 since the beginning of 2021 and his latest campaign finance report showed he had $562,073 in the bank at the end of March.

But there will be no rematch. After the Oregon legislature approved a redistricting plan that increased the percentage of registered Democrats in the district, DeFazio announced he was retiring and later endorsed Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, who dropped her re-election bid and filed to run for Congress.

Hoyle’s report released on Friday shows she’s raised $626,325 and has $387,996 in the bank. The money Hoyle has left is more than twice the amount in the bank of each of the three other actively fundraising Democrats in the race: engineering professor John Selker of Corvallis, AirBnB executive Andrew Kalloch of Eugene and attorney Doyle Canning of Eugene.

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