Oregon’s Audie Murphy Is Giving a Democratic Congressman the Race of His Life. What the Heck Is Going On?

The contest will soon become the most expensive congressional race in Oregon history.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Over the past month, Portland Democrats and the national political press have both made a shocking discovery: This November, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) could lose the congressional seat he's held since 1987 to a Republican who's never before won election.

The race for Oregon's 4th Congressional District is an anomaly in a year when the GOP is struggling to hold the House and Senate. In recent weeks, Politico and The Washington Post have gawked at the novelty: A fresh-faced military veteran could steal a seat from a Democratic stalwart. In cobalt-blue Oregon, of all places!

One person who's not surprised? Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle.

Hoyle is a longtime resident of the district—first in Eugene, now in Springfield. She says the political instincts of DeFazio, 73, have made the seat look safer than it is. A territory spanning the devastated timber country of Oregon's South Coast as well as liberal college towns, District 4 is split almost exactly 50-50 in party registration, Hoyle says.

That made it ripe for the arrival of Alek Skarlatos. At 28, Skarlatos was already famed for stopping a terrorist attack on a French train in 2015, then playing himself in a Clint Eastwood movie about his heroism. Republican funders have poured more than $3 million into Southwest Oregon on his behalf. Democratic committees have responded in kind for DeFazio. The contest will soon become the most expensive congressional race in Oregon history.

And Hoyle? She's got her party bias and she's picking DeFazio to squeak it out. But in this interview, she explains why the race will be a nail-biter, and why it matters.

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