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Musical Chairs In CD 5: Round and round she goes- where she stops, nobody knows

Written by Rick Metsger on Nov. 6th, 2023
Featured Image photo for Musical Chairs In CD 5: Round and round she goes- where she stops, nobody knows

When it comes to musical chairs, political candidates are masters of the game. Only one can claim the prize, the others are just left circling the drain. Oregon Congressional District number five has attracted four notable entrants, a Republican incumbent and three Democrats jockeying for position in a race with national implications for party control in the next Congress.

First-year Congresswoman, Lori Chavez-DeRemer holds the pole position by virtue of the power of incumbency and the massive war chest she has already been accumulating. Democrats already have their diastolic blood pressure readings off the scale, hyperventilating for the rematch. They will paint her as another member of the MAGA Republican circus, gleefully grabbing the tail of the elephant in front of her, strolling along with pack leaders wherever they wish to trod. She will counter that her 90% party voting record is no different from that of the leftist lemmings who vote 90% for whatever their leadership instructs them.

Name-calling, something most people outgrow somewhere between the third and fourth grades, remains ubiquitous in political rhetoric as a way to cattle brand opponents as nothing more than AI-generated human robots.

She will have a voting record to defend, which is fair game, and encompasses decisions on abortion, election integrity, and federal benefits for the poor among the items that will surely find their way to the mailboxes and airways of voters across the district in the general election in November.

On the flip side, she has by all accounts been studious on constituent service and even working with some labor unions on legislative issues that will find them reticent to abandon her down the stretch run. She has also introduced legislation in Congress to halt tolling existing freeway lanes in Oregon, a current ODOT plan that disproportionally impacts drivers (and voters) in her district. The tolling plan has broad, bipartisan opposition among voters and while Chavez-DeRemer’s legislation is unlikely to pass, she is constructing a line of differentiation between her and a future democratic opponent on an issue that has galvanized her constituents.

Those fisticuffs will come in the Fall, but for now, the focus is on the three-way race in the Democratic Primary.

Jamie Mcleod-Skinner is back again. Yup. The third time was not a charm for McLeod-Skinner, narrowly losing to Chavez-DeRemer in the last general election. It was her third consecutive loss, twice for Congress and once for Secretary of State. She is a hard worker with plenty of grit. She also has a strong following in her home base of Deschutes County which represents a major component of the fifth congressional district. 

Democratic voters in that part of the district may like her but have to wonder if actually winning the general election is more important, and if so, what makes her a stronger candidate than the other two contenders, both with a history of actually winning in the heart of the district, Clackamas County. If her candidacy is viewed as a reincarnation of Harold Stassen, then that support may begin to erode.

Lynn Petersen, currently Metro President is another aspirant, and has a history of winning in Clackamas County both as a county commissioner and in her run for Metro. Name recognition may boost her in the primary, but her fundraising efforts will be closely watched in a battle against the fundraising prowess of both of her opponents. She already is trailing the field in this category and without a significant uptick soon, future contributions may become more difficult to pry from donor pockets.

Although more a regional than a federal issue, tolling her would-be constituents’ freeways may put her in a political bind when working to curry favor with angry voters. Metro has been the major force behind ODOT’s congestion relief plan to toll every mile traveled on I-205 through Clackamas County. It will be interesting to see how she walks the political tightrope with her leadership of Metro’s efforts on one end and disgruntled voters on the other.

Janelle Bynum is the third entrant in this congressional competition and already is digging on the spurs as the race enters the backstretch. She tops both McLeod-Skinner and Peterson in the dash for cash and is building a formidable army of influential supporters, most notably, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek.

Democratic leaders are generally reluctant to take sides in a primary food fight, so Kotek’s endorsement should have significant sway with primary voters. And she is not alone. Both Congresswomen Andrea Salinas and Suzanne Bonamici have also weighed in for Bynum as has Speaker of the Oregon House, Dan Rayfield, House Majority Leader, Julie Fahey and more than half the Democratic members of the Oregon House of Representatives. And, just for good measure, throw in State Treasurer, Tobias Read.

Bynum was a key driver behind the Oregon Legislature’s passage of the Chips Act, which is designed to boost the state’s computer chip manufacturing industry. She is also a small business owner, operating a number of McDonalds franchises in the East-Metro area. In this race, she could offer voters the ‘full meal deal’. Not only has she demonstrated the ability to raise campaign cash and assemble an impressive cadre of Democratic influencers, but she can also lay claim to something else her competitors can’t touch. Twice in elections for the Oregon House, she defeated a Republican named Lori Chavez-DeRemer. 

As legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said: “Winning isn’t everything- it’s the only thing.”

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