State Rep. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) announced today that she will seek the Oregon Senate seat currently held by Sen. Betsy Close (R-Albany). 

Currently, Democrats hold a 16-14 advantage in the Legislature's upper chamber. That means Republicans need convince only one Democrat to vote their way to bring the chamber to stalemate. In the past session, GOP senators have been been able to do so effectively, on issues ranging from the labeling of toxic materials to allowing automatic voter registration when Oregonians seek or renew a drivers' license.

The other consideration for Democrats: The Oregon Constitution requires a three-fifths vote to increase taxes. A tax increase measure failed earlier this year when Democrats convinced one but only one Republican, Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro), to vote with them.

So the Benton County seat is likely to be a major focus for Democrats trying to increase their majority. Voter registration statistics show that Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district 27,897 to 20,303.

Gelser, who chairs the House Education Committee, has served five terms. Close is well-known to voters as well. She served three sessions in the House beginning in 1999 and then was appointed to replace former Sen. Frank Morse last year after Morse resigned.

Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland) says Close's seat offers Democrats a real opportunity to pick up a seat.

"It's at the top of our list," Rosenbaum says. "Rep. Gelser's an excellent candidate and we're going to give her all the support we can."