Commentary

Oregon Republicans could gain ground in state Senate

They’re well positioned in certain races, and only need three more seats to tie the chamber 

October 18, 2022 5:30 am
Oregon Senate floor session

Republican have a chance to gain seats in the state Senate. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Two years from now, most Oregon state Senate seats up for election will be those held by Republicans or independent Republican leaners, putting that party on the defensive. This year, when mostly Democratic seats are up, Republicans have their best chance for gains. And their opportunity is real. 

They’re throwing a lot of money into this, more than into the state House races. And Republican advances are likely: At least one seat probably, perhaps two. A Republican gain of three seats would mean a tied Senate. 

There’s some irony here. Redistricting theoretically might have helped Democrats, but mostly, on the evidence of the races at hand, it hasn’t, or not much. None of the three Republican Senate incumbents on this year’s ballot can be considered safe but, partly because of large money infusions, a bunch of Democratic districts are in play. 

I’ve split the 16 Senate races into safe, likely and lean for each of the parties. (I won’t cop out with toss-ups.) Let’s run through them. 

A half-dozen are safe for the Democrats, and incumbents are running in all: Floyd Prozanski and James Manning of Eugene, Sara Gelser Blouin of Corvallis, Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward and Kayse Jama of Portland. Prozanski’s district was extended south from Eugene into more Republican territory, but alone among these Democrats he has no Republican opponent (a Libertarian is on the ballot). 

Two seats are likely but not safe Democratic, both open (no incumbent on the ballot), with similar dynamics. Both are redrawn with a strong Democratic voter base, helping Democratic candidates out-fundraise and organize their opponents. District 13, redrawn to range from Wilsonville to Beaverton, favors Democrat Aaron Woods over Republican John Velez. District 18, in the Beaverton-Hillsboro area, advantages Democrat Wlnsvey Campos over Republican Kimberly Rice. 

Four seats lean Democratic, gently. District 3 in the Medford-Ashland area often is competitive, and Democrat Jeff Golden has been targeted hard by Republicans. GOP challenger Randy Sparacino has banked about three-quarters of a million dollars, more than three times Golden’s treasury. It’s an extraordinary amount for what should be a modest-priced district. Golden won four years ago with about 55%; his chances now are barely better than even. This seat is hotly competitive, maybe the closest of all to a true toss-up. 

Democrat Deb Patterson of Salem (District 10), has been financially targeted, too. Her Republican opponent, Raquel Moore-Green, has raised an extraordinary million dollars, twice Patterson’s own impressive haul, for an area trending gently Democratic. The story is similar in Washington County’s Democratic District 15,  where incumbent Janeen Sollman is being heavily outspent by Republican Carolina Malmedal, who has raised a half-million. 

Finally, one lean-Democratic district has a Republican incumbent. District 20 in Clackamas County is represented by veteran Bill Kennemer of Oregon City, but his old district was redrawn and now is much more Democratic (the blue edge is rated at 20%). He and Democrat Mark Meek both are well funded, and in this map Meek has the predictive edge. 

Three districts lean slightly Republican. The only one with a Republican incumbent is the much-redrawn 11, where Republican Kim Thatcher is running in less-Republican territory, much of it outside her old turf. Her Democratic opponent, Rich Walsh, has raised enough for and has been running a solid campaign. This is a close call.

District 16, the northwest semi-panhandle including Astoria, Tillamook and St. Helens, is a special case. Historically and traditionally Democratic, in this century it has shifted gradually redder. The dominant politician is the recent Democratic senator, now-independent gubernatorial candidate, Betsy Johnson, who has split the difference between the parties. Her appointed replacement isn’t running. The Democrat, running an energetic campaign, is Melissa Busch. But the edge narrowly goes to Republican Suzanne Weber, who has been mayor of Tillamook and is a current state House member from half the district, and has worked closely with Johnson. 

The other Republican leaner is District 26 in Columbia Gorge, where incumbent Chuck Thomsen is retiring, and Republican Daniel Bonham is heavily outraising Democrat Raz Mason. The district has a tight partisan split, however; the strongest campaign can prevail. 

The sole Republican “likely” is in a district now held by long-timer Democrat Lee Beyer, though heavily redrawn from its old configuration. The revised district, still anchored by Springfield, is now mostly rural territory to that city’s north, and is mostly Republican. This gives Republican Cedric Hayden (who has a big financial advantage) clear odds over Democrat Ashley Pelton.

When you add it up, what do you get? First, the caveat: There are always shifts and unknowns, and every election has surprises. In the aggregate, the odds favor a Republican gain of at least one seat, with two highly realistic. More are a reach but plausible. 

The best news for Democrats might be holding about where they are.

But remember too: Whatever Republicans get this time may be their high water mark for a few years to come. 

CORRECTIONS: Democrats Floyd Prozanski and Wlnsvey Campos are favored to win their districts. Their names were misspelled in a previous version of this story. Republican Kim Thatcher and Democrat Rich Walsh are vying for Senate District 11. The district was wrong in a previous of this story. The Capital Chronicle regrets these errors. 

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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.

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