Tattoo he'd get: A tiny American flag on his shoulder.

Six-term incumbent Rep. Darlene Hooley shocked fellow Democrats when she announced her retirement little more than a month before the March 11 filing deadline. The small window limited the field for a rare open congressional seat but still drew one exceptional candidate into this primary and another who's got plenty of high-level political experience.

The obvious choice here is state Sen. Kurt Schrader (D-Canby), a veterinarian who has served with distinction for 11 years in Salem. Schrader is smart—he's been co-chair of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee since 2003. And he is independent—having frequently been at odds with Democratic powerhouse groups such as the trial lawyers. That independence is important in a district where voters narrowly favored President Bush over Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

Schrader built a reputation for sometimes being prickly and secretive, but that comes with having to say no to spending requests. His chief competition comes from Steve Marks, a former chief of staff to ex-Gov. John Kitzhaber. Now a lobbyist, Marks is well known to Salem insiders but has been largely invisible since Kitzhaber left office in 2002. He has never run for election before, and Schrader's legislative experience outshines Marks' résumé.

Three other candidates, retirees Richard Nathe and Nancy Moran plus Andrew Foster, who runs a Corvallis video company, are running much lower-key campaigns.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Video of WW endorsement interview(thanks to Portland Community Media)