By the numbers, filings for Oregon offices provide political fodder

In legislative races, Republicans have field more candidates than Democrats

March 16, 2022 5:30 am

(Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon’s two top political parties did a solid job of candidate recruitment this year. At least when it comes to the numbers.

What those numbers mean when the two sets of elections come around in May and November is a different question.

The sheer population of candidates this year at the federal and state level (less so locally) is impressive. (The numbers here were as of last weekend, and could change a little with dropouts.)

For governor, 34 candidates (15 Democrats, 19 Republicans) filed, compared with 16 four years ago. U.S. Senate contenders now number 10, though the seat is almost sure to be won by incumbent Democrat Ron Wyden. The Senate contest two years ago drew half as many candidates.

The legislative filings present a more subtle case.

Both parties did well filling ballot slots, avoiding conceding seats to the other side without even a paper fight.

In the Senate, only a single seat – in the Eugene-area District 4, held and sought again by long-time Senator Floyd Prozanski, a Democrat – is uncontested. Five seats in the House drew but a single candidate (four are Republicans, one Democratic, in districts with strong voting history for their parties). Presumably, write-ins on the empty slate could shorten that list further.

This year’s legislative candidate totals are nearly the same as two years ago. Then, the total was 192 candidates (154 for the House and 38 for the Senate); this year, the total is 191 (149 for the House and 42 for the Senate).

There are differences below the surface. In 2020, Democrats had more candidates for both chambers: 83 for the House, against 71 for Republicans; and in the Senate, a big lead of 23 compared to 15 Republicans. This year, Republicans out-fielded the Democrats: 80 Republicans to 70 Democrats for the House, and 22 Republicans to 20 Democrats for the Senate.

It’s not a massive turnaround, but on the surface seems to run counter to the overall blue trend of Oregon politics in the last couple of decades. What might lie behind it?

When parties are on the outs, activism often becomes more emotional and widespread – one reason opposition parties often do well in mid-term elections – and that may be the case here. That could combine with the redistricting changes underway, which might open opportunities for contenders.

This year the larger Republican numbers could have another partial explanation too. Two elements of the party – call them Trumpists and traditionalists -– are somewhat in opposition to each other and are contending for party control.

In many states (California and Idaho among them), this dynamic is clearer and more overt than in Oregon. Many of the Oregon candidates haven’t set up websites (yet) and haven’t otherwise committed themselves publicly to specific rhetoric and ideology.

But there are some clues. In 13 of the House districts, two Republicans are competing against each other for the nomination. District 21 in Salem and Keizer, District 25 in Tigard and District 30 in Hillsboro have a recent history of voting clearly Democratic, which means the Republican nomination might not be especially valuable … except as a marker of faction support within the party.

The primary contests don’t all fit into any one pattern, of course.

There’s the case of District 17, a mostly Republican district in western Marion and Linn counties with an open seat. Ed Diehl, is running (his website said) with the declaration, “He’s not a lawyer, a politician, or candidate climbing a political ladder.” He is facing Beth Jones, whose website declares, “I became an attorney because my passion is advocating for others!” Is the popularity of the legal profession at stake there?

The Democrats have a few unusual primaries of their own. The top head-scratcher may be in District 19 in Salem, an open seat where three Democrats (and a Republican in the fall) are competing: two members of the Salem City Council (nothing unusual there) but also Brad Witt, an incumbent Democratic legislator from faraway Clatskanie. Witt, a veteran legislator, found his newly reapportioned district less hospitable politically and apparently is hoping for a better response in Salem. That seems questionable, but we’ll see.

So, in the primary election, the Republicans especially (and Democrats to a lesser degree) will be defining themselves and announcing what sort of party they are.

The filings portend less for the general election, for now, other than that they give no big reasons to expect a lot of change in partisan numbers and control of state government.

Of course, a sweep election by either party could change that. Meantime, the primary could reshape the battle between the parties and narrow voters’ focus. We’ll know more about that in a couple of months.

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Randy Stapilus

Randy Stapilus has researched and written about Northwest politics and issues since 1976 for a long list of newspapers and other publications. A former newspaper reporter and editor, and more recently an author and book publisher, he lives in Carlton.