Joe Biden (D)
Jeff Merkley (D)
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley went to Washington, D.C., in 2009 from East Multnomah County. But in some ways, he never really left. The son of a mill worker, Merkley graduated from Stanford and Princeton, yes, but he's a startlingly regular guy—jogs to keep the weight off, can't keep his hair combed, and says what he thinks instead of what he's supposed to say.
Few people expected him to unseat incumbent GOP Sen. Gordon Smith in 2008, and Merkley's been surprising people, pleasantly, ever since. GovTrack.com, which keeps tabs on Congress, rates Merkley, 63, the fourth-most liberal senator in the Capitol and one of the hardest working—he introduced the third-most bills last year. Not many passed (thanks, Mitch), but Merkley made an indelible contribution to Americans' understanding of Donald Trump's administration when he journeyed to the Mexican border in Texas and exposed the shameful policy of splitting up the families of undocumented immigrants. Merkley is a truth-teller, an honest man in a crowd of equivocators. He's Bernie Sanders without the distinctive accent or marketing ability. His state and the country need more of him.
Merkley's Republican challenger is Jo Rae Perkins, a 64-year-old real estate agent from Albany, Ore., who has made three prior bids for federal office since 2014, all unsuccessful. This time around, she's received some national attention by swearing allegiance to the QAnon conspiracy theory which, at its core, posits that Trump is going to take down a cabal of corrupted liberal elites who sell children into sexual exploitation. WW could not schedule an interview with Perkins but did attend two of her campaign speeches, where she falsely claimed Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler plotted to start Oregon's wildfires. Her fringe views are disqualifying.
Two third-party candidates also seek this seat. Ibrahim A. Tahir, the nominee of the Green and Progressive parties, is a philosophy teacher who isn't much of an improvement on Perkins—he believes, for example, that face masks do nothing to stop the spread of COVID-19. Gary Dye, the Libertarian candidate, is a former NW Natural engineer who, when asked what track record qualified him for the seat, turned his video screen to display the resplendent view from his hilltop home. It's probably best he remains there.
Merkley's most awkward moments on Zoom: He's had trouble logging on. "My technological incompetence has been an embarrassment."
U.S. House of Representatives, District 1
Suzanne Bonamici (D)
Bonamici, 66, hasn't made many waves in the eight years she's been in Congress representing a district that covers much of the Coastal Range and Washington County. (If you start in Yamhill Valley wine country and road trip to Astoria, you've seen a lot of her turf.) Still, we've come to appreciate the subtle, steady virtues of Bonamici in a time of upheaval. She can be counted on to underreact—which means if she's outraged, you'd better be paying attention.
Throughout the pandemic, Bonamici has been busy. In July, she introduced the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, which would allow students to access school meals even when classrooms were closed due to COVID-19. That's a lifeline for America's poorest children. In August, she led 44 members of Congress demanding increased renter protections from federal landlords (think HUD). Aside from pandemic-related legislation, Bonamici led the passage of a bill to protect pregnant women from workplace discrimination and retaliation.
Bonamici's opponent, Christopher Christensen, doesn't appear to be running a serious campaign. He hasn't raised a dollar.
Bonamici's funniest moment on Zoom: During a Zoom call with her daughter, Bonamici's "grandcat" was in the background pawing at the television screen as Trump's doctors spoke outside Walter Reed Hospital. "He didn't trust those doctors," Bonamici says.
U.S. House of Representatives, District 3
Earl Blumenauer (D)
For 25 years, the bow-tied and bespectacled Congressman Earl Blumenauer has represented Portland and Gresham in a district that extends east to Mount Hood.
In the U.S. Capitol, where seniority means everything, Blumenauer's tenure has earned him a spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which writes the nation's budget. As the holder of one of the safest Democratic seats in Congress—Dems outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in the 3rd District—Blumenauer, 72, has long devoted considerable time and money to evangelizing nationally for issues popular in Portland: bicycle infrastructure and cannabis, to name a couple. (One sign of how secure his seat is: Blumenauer's Republican opponent, Joanna Harbour, a caregiver and entrepreneur from Estacada making her first run for office, did not attend our endorsement interview.)
As Congress' leading advocate for the federal legalization of cannabis (he says he doesn't use the stuff), Blumenauer can claim credit for progress: The House will hold take its first-ever vote on legalization next month and Blumenauer says the more conservative Senate is moving in the right direction also. More critically amid economic havoc, Blumenauer sponsored legislation that would direct $120 billion in grants to independent restaurants. That measure just passed the House and is part of the $1.5 trillion COVID-19 relief package being negotiated between the White House and Congress. Blumenauer's fondness for Portland's bespoke culture isn't just something he wears on his lapel. His advocacy may be the only thing standing between Portland and an Applebee's on every corner.
Blumenauer's most awkward moments on Zoom: Neglecting to mute himself when he rejoins a call. "I've got some heated texts saying, 'Do you know that you are live?'"
U.S. House of Representatives, District 5
Kurt Schrader (D)
After more than a decade in Congress, Rep. Kurt Schrader, a 68-year-old veterinarian, is now vying for his seventh term. WW believes he's still the right person for the job. As a co-chair of the Affordable and Accessible Health Care Task Force, Schrader helped pass two bills that would reduce the cost of prescription drugs. He wants to follow up on that in the next session and pass a bigger drug price package that would negotiate lower prices for senior citizens. He's also working on a bipartisan climate change bill with his colleague Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) to drive power plant emissions to near zero over the next three decades.
He's easily the most conservative Democrat in Oregon's congressional delegation—a title he wears with some pride in a district that stretches from the Warm Springs Reservation east of Mount Hood to Waldport on the coast, and doesn't feel much kinship with Portland's politics. That's reflected in his voting record. Just this month, he was one of 18 Democrats who voted no on the latest COVID-19 relief package.
In May, we made the case that Schrader matched his district better than his challenger from the left, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba. This fall, he faces Amy Ryan Courser of Keizer, a Republican businesswoman who owns a carpet cleaning company and served on the Keizer City Council.
Courser did not show up at WW's endorsement interview, but we watched her speak in September at a campaign event for U.S. Senate candidate Jo Rae Perkins—which doubled as a recruiting drive for the conspiracy theory QAnon. At the Keizer event, Courser said "law and order is No. 1" and that she identifies more as a businesswoman than a politician. She didn't offer any explicit endorsement of QAnon. However, she repeated the falsehood that antifa might be responsible for setting the state's wildfires. That makes it hard to see how she's fit for Congress.
Schrader's most awkward moment on Zoom: Talking trash about how onerous one Zoom call was, Schrader realized he was still on the call and others could hear him (Schrader declined to disclose whom the call was with).