Sabato's Crystal Ball

Oregon Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Oregon (05) (Open Seat)

Outlook: Likely Democratic


September 16, 2008 Update:

Listen up kids: here’s not how to run for Congress. Lesson one: don’t pay for your girlfriend to have an abortion if you are a pro-life candidate. Lesson two: don’t lie about it when the story is confirmed by said girlfriend. Lesson three: don’t travel to Cuba, visit the famed Tropicana night club, attend a cigar festival and cockfight, and claim the trip was for “humanitarian purposes.” Lesson four: if failing to follow lesson three, don’t claim “I’ve never smoked a whole cigar in my entire life.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the campaign of Mike Erikson, still the Republican nominee for Oregon’s 5th Congressional district. Since the GOP primary, Erikson stock has fallen faster than Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, and no Republican officeholder or conservative group has dared to endorse him. Once, the GOP was optimistic about its chances of capturing a rare swing district open seat, but no more. As it stands right now, Democrat Mark Schrader is a virtual lock (unless he has secrets of his own) to become the next Representative from the state of Oregon.

July 3, 2008 Update:

Republican repeat candidate Mike Erickson’s chances for a victory took a hit as the abortion allegations from the primary campaign have resurfaced already. Erickson’s ex-girlfriend spoke with a local paper and gave her version of the events leading up to her abortion, claiming Erickson knowingly paid for the operation. The controversy has led to Oregon GOP Senator Gordon Smith withholding his support while Oregon Right to Life denounced the pro-life politician.

Almost anywhere else in 2008, this would be the death knell for the Republican. While these new details, which directly contradict Erickson’s past explanations, are a crushing blow, Erickson can still continue and put some pressure on Democratic nominee Kurt Schrader. Erickson benefits from the roughly equal demographic breakdown in the district between Democrats and Republicans and from the fact that the seat is currently open, with Democrat Darlene Hooley retiring, so there will be no incumbent to protect it.

Also important is Erickson’s personal wealth which has allowed him to donate over half a million to himself, which dwarfs the $100,000 Schrader has raised for the entire campaign from all sources put together. The ability to self-fund will allow Erickson to withstand some of the negative press since money won’t be a problem even if his donor base is unhappy, but it can’t make up for the horrible press he’s been getting. If Erickson wants to win, something better change and soon.

May 27, 2008 Update:

The May 20 Oregon primary turned out to be quite an exciting affair, with 2006 Republican nominee Mike Erickson clinching the party nod once again, but only after some exciting fireworks. First, Erickson’s main primary opponent, Kevin Mannix went public with unflattering abortion allegations that attacked the heart of Erickson’s conservative credentials. Then, after the mail-in ballots were counted, Erickson won by fewer than 2,000 votes and Mannix didn’t concede until the next day.

Although Mannix’s last-minute attack wasn’t enough to cripple Erickson in the primary, it may hobble him in the general election. Already GOPers are reluctant to line up behind Erickson, with Mannix and Senator Gordon Smith both withholding endorsements. Democratic state senator Kurt Schrader, on the other hand, emerged as the Democratic nominee looking no worse for the wear and is the favorite as the general election phase of the campaign begins.


Background

After twelve long years of wandering in the minority-party wilderness, the Democrats are back and enjoying their newfound majority power. As a result, there have been noticeably few Democratic retirements relative to their Republican counterparts. Oregon Representative Darleen Hooley is a rare exception to the rule, and her surprise retirement sets the stage for a competitive open seat race in an archetypical swing district.

Both parties’ nominations are up in the air with candidates scrambling to file before the March 11th deadline. Republicans face a primary between businessmen Allen Alley and Erik Erickson, but the party waits with baited breath for the entrance of GOP chair Kevin Mannix. Although Erickson, who ran in 2006, was the presumptive nominee before Hooley’s retirement, his fundraising ($175K in 2007) has been weak. Mannix, meanwhile, is a prolific fundraiser with high name identification from several statewide bids who could energize the district’s social conservatives. His entrance would vastly improve Republican chances of taking the district.

On the Democratic side, the field is more muddled. A day after Iraq veteran and gubernatorial adviser Paul Evans withdrew from contention, the first top-tier Democrat, state senator Kurt Schrader, jumped in, but a host of Democrats are mulling possible bids. The district is pure swing territory—registered Republicans have a slim 5K advantage—and will force national Democrats to play defense. Give the national mood, this race starts off leaning Democratic, but the entrance of Mannix could easily shift the race into a pure toss up.

Candidates

Kurt Schrader – Democrat – state senator
Website

Mike Erickson – Republican – businessman, 2006 Republican nominee
Website