The incumbents in Oregon’s 5th and 6th Congressional districts have an advantage of being already in office but will face challenges next year. (Getty Images)
Oregon’s neighboring 5th and 6th Congressional districts are, politically, a lot more different than they may have seemed last November.
In the days following the November 2022 election, they were in a similar position: Both featured races so close that days would pass before the winner became clear.
The final result showed the 5th District going to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, leading her Democratic opponent by 2.1% of the vote, and the 6th to Democrat Andrea Salinas, who prevailed by 2.4%. DeRemer faced a stronger opponent than Salinas did.
Both will be competitive districts in the 2024 races, and both are expected to feature the incumbents. Opposition from the losing party in 2022 already has surfaced in both cases, and both may be targeted by national parties. Both incumbents have been doing what incumbents in close-margin districts ought to do: Staying close to home, visiting lots of organizations and activities. Their status is similar enough that the two of them, from different parties, have coordinated on many activities and policy ideas – likely to their mutual benefit.
But there are underlying differences. The Cook Index, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball all rate Oregon’s 5th, centered in Clackamas and Deschutes counties, as a “toss up” district. District 6, centered in Marion, Yamhill and southeastern Washington counties, is rated as “lean Democratic” by the first two and “likely Democratic” by Sabato.
The national analysts, whatever the data behind their choices, got their calls right last year.
While both districts lean Democratic, at least somewhat in the case of the 5th, it’s nowhere close to the Democratic-lock in the 1st and 3rd districts or the Republican hold on the 2nd. The Cook Political Report has developed partisan indexes based on voting records and party registration, and calculates that the 5th District has a lean toward Democrats of 2%, while the 6th has a lean of 4% – enough to matter when races get close.
The bigger factor, however, is this: DeRemer is swimming upstream in her district, running as a Republican in a Democratic district. Salinas is swimming with the current as a Democrat in a Democratic district.
The districts are changing. The biggest growth area in the 5th is Bend, which now has a population over 100,000 and has been trending steadily more Democratic as it grows.
Both candidates have some advantage in their roles as the first Latina members of Congress from Oregon. Salinas may have the bigger advantage there; the Hispanic population in the 6th District is about 20% compared with about 10% in the 5th.
At the same time, competition to run against the incumbents is stronger so far in the 5th District. DeRemer DeRemer’s three leading opponents – Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Janelle Bynum and Lynn Peterson – have distinct strengths and weaknesses, but all look to be formidable opponents. All have a regional profile and strong organizational and fundraising networks. Two have strong experience as successful candidates – one of them, Bynum, actually defeated DeRemer in two legislative races a few years ago. The third contender, McLeod-Skinner, nearly defeated DeRemer last year.
Russ, who has served for several terms as mayor at Dundee, was a candidate in the Republican primary in the 6th District in the 2022 election, but left little impression: He came in 6th in the primary, pulling just 3.8% of the vote.
The more likely Republican nominee at this point is Boles, who has a more extensive political track record in the area, but not one likely to give Salinas night terrors. She has served in the state House in two separate runs and in the Senate once, but arrived each time in those offices by appointment rather than election. (That would indicate strong connections within Salem-area Republican circles, but not necessarily in the voting public.) She won a general election once for a strongly Republican House district, running at the time as an incumbent, and as an incumbent lost once – in a Senate district that had long been Republican-held. Still, her experience and links to the area’s Republican leaders may be strong enough to hold off other prospective primary entrants.
To be clear, the 6th District is not a runaway Democratic district like Oregon’s 1st or 3rd, which are much more based in the Portland area. The margins here are still close enough that a strong Republican candidate and campaign, or a notably flawed Democratic one, could flip the district.
But the chances of that happening are stronger in the 5th.
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