The possibility that the least progressive Democratic member of the Pacific Northwest’s congressional delegation could be ousted from office after years of alienating voters and activists back home is looking very real.
With several tens of thousands of votes now tallied, incumbent Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader is well behind in his bid for another term, trailing challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who previously ran against Greg Walden for Congress in 2018 and then statewide for Secretary of State in 2020.
Schrader has been disappointing constituents and angering Democratic leaders in Oregon for years now. He described House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “truly a terrible person” to a group of donors, used his influence in the House Democratic caucus to attack President Biden’s Build Back Better package, and was one of just two Democrats to initially oppose the American Rescue Plan last year.
While the House of Representatives was working on responding to January 6th, Schrader characterized the second impeachment of Donald Trump as “a lynching,” which sparked a very angry and pronounced backlash. Schrader subsequently apologized for his comments and voted to impeach Trump.
Schrader not infrequently votes with Republicans and against Democratic bills or amendments, as our Last Week In Congress archive shows.
Despite this, Biden and Pelosi both backed his reelection.
Schrader is the current chair of the Blue Dog PAC, the political arm of the coalition of the House Democratic caucus’ most conservative members.
Schrader’s behavior and poor voting record has resulted in him being derisively dubbed Oregon’s Joe Manchin by Democratic activists. Four out of six county party organizations in the new 5th shunned Schrader and backed McLeod-Skinner.
McLeod-Skinner made sure that voters were aware of Schrader’s long history of accepting boatloads of corporate cash by running an ad describing his corrupt relationships with powerful industries like Big Pharma.
Schrader’s home county of Clackamas, which is home to half of the district’s electorate, has barely counted any votes in this primary due to logistical problems, so we can’t say tonight that Schrader is toast. But he’s definitely in trouble. He’s losing the rest of the district to McLeod-Skinner by a double-digit margin, which puts him in a very tough spot. He’ll need to do very well in Clackamas to get anywhere near fifty percent. Surpassing McLeod-Skinner will be a tall order.
Schrader has represented Oregon’s 5th District since the 2008 presidential election, when he was chosen by voters to succeed retiring Democratic Representative Darlene Hooley. The previous two incarnations of the 5th ran from the Pacific Ocean to the Cascade Mountains, spanning the Coast Range, the state capital of Salem, and the southeastern Portland metro area.
The new 5th, however, looks more like the original 5th District drawn in the 1980s. It’s an eastern Willamette Valley district that doesn’t touch the ocean, having ceded that turf to the new 6th District and the new 1st.
However, unlike the the original 5th, the new district includes a chunk of Central Oregon, anchored by Bend, one of the state’s fastest growing urban centers.
Bend has historically been part of the 2nd, the state’s easternmost district, which has had Republican representation for a very long time. Now, however, Bend is in a district that isn’t solidly Republican, and Democratic voters there are in a position to pass judgment on Kurt Schrader’s representation, even though he isn’t their congressman. Thus far, their wishes are clear: they’d much rather have McLeod-Skinner as the party’s nominee this November.
By a ginormous margin of over thirty points, Deschutes County voters are going with McLeod-Skinner over Schrader. She has a jaw-dropping 70.61% of the vote there, while Schrader isn’t even cracking thirty percent.
McLeod-Skinner is also winning the portion of Democratic stronghold Multnomah County that’s in the district. All together, she has 59.81% of the vote right now, though again, that’s with barely any votes from Clackamas County tabulated.
Schrader is winning in Linn and Marion counties, though his margin of victory in Linn slipped as the night wore on, in another positive sign for McLeod-Skinner.
In Linn, Schrader has 52.33% of the vote to McLeod-Skinner’s 46.50%. In Marion, he has 55.39% of the vote, while McLeod-Skinner has 42.89%.
The new 5th District also has a tiny slice of Jefferson County. Jefferson has apparently not tabulated any votes for its lone 5th District precinct.
In Clackamas County, an initial tabulation run early in the evening has Schrader ahead. But it consists of very few votes… a paltry 1,309 in total.
Schrader prevailed in that drop and has 56.84% of the vote.
The county has not published any additional returns due to problems with the majority of the ballots it mailed out, prompting fierce criticism from Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who oversees the state’s elections.
“As Oregon’s chief election officer – and a Clackamas County voter — I am deeply concerned about the delay in reporting from Clackamas County Elections tonight,” Fagan said in a public statement. “While I am confident that the process they are following is secure, transparent and the results will be accurate, the county’s reporting delays tonight are unacceptable. Voters have done their jobs, and now it’s time for Clackamas County Elections to do theirs.”
“In recent days, my office and other counties have offered extra personnel to help with timely reporting,” Fagan explained.
“We eagerly await a response from county elections officials on how we can aid in the timely processing of results. I am disappointed that we have not seen more urgency from elections officials in Clackamas County.”
Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall did not offer an explanation or respond to requests for comment from the media on the failure to publish anything beyond an initial very small tabulation. Hall’s lack of communication this evening has been roundly panned by Oregon political observers.
Without more data from Clackamas, it would be premature to make any projections. As it stands now, though, Schrader is at risk of being booted. If that were to happen, it’d be the first time in over three decades that voters in Oregon tossed out a member of Congress in a primary election.
Like most states, Oregon has a sore loser law, which means if Schrader isn’t nominated, he can’t then switch to running for Congress as an independent.
We’ll continue to watch this race closely and bring you additional updates.