Progressive ousts Biden-backed Schrader in Oregon primary

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FILE – Democratic U.S. congressional candidate from Oregon, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, speaks during an election watch party at the High Desert Music Hall in Redmond, Ore., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. McLeod-Skinner defeated Representative Kurt Schrader in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th U.S. District. (Dean Guernsey/The Bulletin via AP, File)

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Seven-term U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader, a centrist who has been endorsed by President Joe Biden, was ousted in the Oregon Democratic primary by progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner after results were delayed by more than one week by a problem printing the ballots.

Vote counting in the state’s 5th congressional district was slowed because tens of thousands of ballots were printed with blurry barcodes, rendering them unreadable by vote-counting machines. Workers in Clackamas County, the state’s third-largest county, had to transfer votes by hand to new ballots so they could be counted. This process continued on Friday for other races that have not yet been called.

McLeod-Skinner had the support of local Democratic parties in the four counties covered by the redesigned seat, which now leans a little less blue. In her campaign, she called for stronger action to tackle climate change and complained that Schrader was too conservative. She also portrayed Schrader as a politician who. had lost touch with his party base and out of pocket with big pharma on issues such as prescription drug prices.

McLeod-Skinner will face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in November. Chavez-DeRemer is the former mayor of Happy Valley, Oregon. She said she would support businesses and the police and tackle “the crisis on our southern border”.

In a statement on Twitter, McLeod-Skinner thanked Schrader for his years of service and said Oregon Democrats should view the contest outcome as “an evaluation of our ideas and confirmation of our values.”

“From Sellwood to Sunriver, Oregonians have never stopped believing that we can protect our families, our climate, and our civil rights,” she wrote. “Oregonians – this is your victory.”

Biden made Schrader his first endorsement of the year, but that didn’t help the moderate Democrat in a district that now includes Bend, one of the fastest growing Democratic areas in the state where McLeod- Skinner had more name recognition.

Schrader voted against some of Biden’s priorities, including a money-saving plan to let Medicare negotiate the price it pays for prescription drugs. A year ago, he was one of only two members of his party to vote against a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill because, among several reasons, he was not in favor of an increase in the minimum wage.

Those decisions may be what cost him his re-election, said John Horvick, political director of nonpartisan public opinion firm DHM Research.

“He’s a moderate, but that’s more specific to issues where he’s opposed the party,” he said. “The big issue is really his reluctance to support Democrats on prescription drugs. You can break with your party in many different areas, but a very salient and deep-seated position within the party – that was a deciding factor.”

What remains to be seen is whether McLeod-Skinner will do well in the general election in a district that is fairly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. The Democrats’ hold on the seat could be threatened if moderate voters perceive it as too progressive, he said.

Republican candidate Chavez-DeRemer is endorsed by the third Republican in the House of Representatives, U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik of New York — an endorsement Chavez-DeRemer underscored in her primary campaign to a crowded field. That could play well in more conservative parts of the redesigned district that stretches from suburban Portland into rural central Oregon.

“For me, it’s a mad dash for the future and the quality of applicants will matter,” Horvick said. “The opportunities for Oregon to be at the center of the national conversation are higher this cycle than any cycle I can think of in recent memory.”

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This story has been updated to correct the description of Oregon’s redesigned 5th District.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus



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Sandy A. Greer