Oregon Has Just One Republican in Congress. Could One of These Three Candidates Become the Second?

Even after Democrats in the state moved aggressively to give themselves an edge in the new congressional maps, anything could happen come November.

Oregon Republicans have to like their chances to pick up a seat in Congress this November.

There’s every reason to think Democrats will have a tough year: President Joe Biden is unpopular. Inflation is high. COVID variants keep flaring up. The party in power generally loses seats in midterm elections.

This year is unusual in that Oregon has three open congressional seats. U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, both incumbent Democrats, are expected to win easy races, as is the incumbent Republican, Rep. Cliff Bentz. But population gains meant Oregon gained an additional seat in Congress—and different district boundaries.

Even after Democrats in the state moved aggressively to give themselves an edge in the new congressional maps, anything could happen come November. Primary voters chose weak Republican nominees for two of the three open seats. The third may provide an opportunity for Republicans this year; it’s considered a toss-up by prognosticators. Here’s why.

4th District

Alek Skarlatos

Strengths: He’s an Army vet who helped prevent a terrorist attack on a French train in 2015. He even made a movie about it, directed by Clint Eastwood. Skarlatos played himself.

Weaknesses: He ran and lost to retiring Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio in 2020. DeFazio retired and Skarlatos jumped in again, this time for an open seat.

But Skarlatos has some odd campaign finance issues. He’s paying himself and his brother with campaign dollars. (That may be perfectly legal. Federal laws allow candidates to pay themselves a salary, even though state laws don’t.) And, after an Associated Press story appeared in the primary, he faces a Federal Election Commission complaint for moving money from a charity he created after his last campaign to fund this campaign.

Primary: Despite virtually no opposition (the other candidates received just over 1,000 votes to his 58,000) and raising $2.5 million, he has just $650,000 on hand. That’s more than his opponent, but not much considering his weak GOP competition he faced.

Democratic opponent: Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle, an experienced politician and campaigner.

His campaign says: Campaign manager Ross Purgason calls the FEC complaint “a political stunt” and “without merit,” adding, “Alek was never paid a dollar from the 15:17 Trust and never served on the board of directors.”

“Because Alek is a veteran who has dedicated his life to serving Oregon, he is not personally wealthy,” Purgason says. “Solon Skarlatos is the political director of our campaign, he’s an important member of our team, and his compensation is at a rate similar to work on campaigns and Capitol Hill.”

5th District

Lori Chavez-DeRemer

Strengths: She may be Republicans’ best shot. She’s a moderate and businesswoman; she and her husband own medical practices. She also served as mayor of Happy Valley from 2010 to 2018.

Weaknesses: She’s lost two close state legislative races to Rep. Janelle Bynum.

Primary: Chavez-DeRemer beat well-funded, second-time congressional candidate Jimmy Crumpacker in a hard-fought race. He had Oregon Right to Life’s endorsement; she had to overcome an inconsistent position on abortion.

Democratic opponent: Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who accomplished the rare feat of taking out incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader from the left. But that gives Chavez-DeRemer an opportunity, too, to cast herself as the right fit for the new district.

Her campaign says: “Lori Chavez-DeRemer wants to go to Congress to tackle the issues that are impacting Oregonians, like inflation, rising crime rates, and education,” says campaign manager Jihun Han. “Lori is the only common-sense candidate in this race who has a proven bipartisan track record as mayor of Happy Valley and will make a fantastic congresswoman.”

6th District

Mike Erickson

Strengths: He can spend his own money on the campaign. Erickson has loaned or given himself $1.3 million so far. He’s a businessman who has run for Congress before.

Weaknesses: Plenty of Republicans have written off the district, which might otherwise be up for grabs given how close party registration numbers are. Their pessimism stems from a notable scandal Erickson faced in his last run for Congress, in 2008. The allegation: He drove a woman he dated to get an abortion and paid for it. The woman and her friends spoke to the media, and Erickson denied knowing anything about the abortion or the pregnancy. In 2008, Oregon Right to Life, his Republican opponent in the primary, and other Republicans refused to endorse him.

Primary: In theory, it was competitive. But he easily defeated moderate Ron Noble, who proved ill-suited to raising money.

Democratic opponent: State Rep. Andrea Salinas, who won a hotly contested primary against an opponent funded by a crypto billionaire.

His campaign says: The Erickson campaign did not respond to voicemail or email requests for comment.