Oregon Primary Highlights

Oregon held its primary election on May 19th. Results can be found here. Oregon’s U.S. Senate and Congressional incumbents all won their primary and will continue on to the general election. COVID-19 and social distancing definitely changed how candidates ran their campaigns. The traditional candidate forums and debates moved to web-based platforms, door-to-door canvasing became direct phones calls and digital ads, and opportunities to mingle with voters at community events were canceled.

However, COVID did not impact Oregon voter turnout as was seen in other states. Oregon’s commitment to vote-by-mail paid off with one of the highest state voter turnouts in the national 2020 primary election. This was also Oregon’s first election with prepaid envelopes, making voting so easy that 46% turnout almost seems too low.

Here are some races of interest:

Congressional District 2 – U.S. Representative Greg Walden is retiring and not seeking re-election. Former State Senator Cliff Bentz (Ontario) prevailed in a crowded Republican field. The race included Knute Buehler (Bend): former gubernatorial candidate and state representative, who had name identification and outspent his opponents, Jimmy Crumpacker (Tumalo): a well-connected, political newcomer, who received Right to Life’s endorsement, Jason Atkinson (Jacksonville): a well-connected former state senator. Bentz will face off against Democrat Alex Spenser (Klamath Falls) in the November general election.

Secretary of State – It was no surprise that Senator Kim Thatcher (Keizer) handily won the Republican primary. But the Democrat primary proved to be a roller coaster. Earlier in the year, former Oregon House Majority Leader, Jennifer Williamson (Portland) was seen as the front-runner against Senator Mark Hass (Beaverton) and Jamie McLeod-Skinner (Terrebonne) until Williamson dropped out of the race in February. With her departure, Senator Shemia Fagan (Happy Valley) joined the race and quickly picked up important Democrat endorsements including public employee unions and Planned Parenthood, out-raising both her opponents combined.

On election night, it appeared that Hass had taken the nomination, but as results filtered in over the next day, Fagan took the lead by a mere 2,000 votes. Fagan was declared the winner of the race by less than 1 percent of the vote. It is unclear whether a vote re-count will be sought.

In the General Election, Fagan and Thatcher will face off with an anticipated third opponent, former deputy Secretary of State and Republican state representative, Rich Vial (Scholls), who will be running as a non-partisan candidate.

Passing of Representative Mitch Greenlick

Recently, the Oregon Legislature mourned the loss of Representative Mitch Greenlick (Portland-D). In his ninth term, Representative Greenlick was known for his work in health care and public health. Prior to serving in the legislature, he was past chair of the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in the Medical School of OHSU. While Dr. Maxine Dexter (D) and forester Dick Courter (R) face off for his seat in November, the Washington and Multnomah County Commissioners will select a short-term replacement.

Leadership Changes

In March, Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger (Grants Pass) announced he was running for the Josephine County Commission. The caucus chose Senator Fred Girod (Stayton), an OSU alumnus, as their new leader. On the other side of the isle, Democrat Majority Leader Senator Ginny Burdick (Portland) has stated she would be stepping down from her leadership position. Senator Rob Wagner (Lake Oswego), current chair of the Senate Education Committee, was recently announced as the new Majority Leader.

Additionally, after Representative Margaret Doherty’s (Tigard-D) announcement that she would not run for reelection earlier this year, the Speaker appointed Representative Teresa Alonso Leon (Woodburn-D) to chair the Interim House Education Committee.

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