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Blog Home Page --> House -- Oregon -- 05

DCCC Plunks Down Big Bucks

House Democrats started flexing their financial muscle last night, reserving their first major advertising slots ahead of November elections and offering a peek into the party's priorities. In all, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved $4 million in three competitive districts between September and the November 4 election, beginning the process of swamping Republicans with their financial advantage.

Buoyed by surprising and scandalous revelations that forced Rep. Vito Fossella to announce his retirement from his Staten Island-based Thirteenth District in New York, Democrats plunked down $2.1 million in the pricey New York City market. The party has largely coalesced around New York City Councilmember Mike McMahon, while Republicans are struggling to find a candidate of their own.

After one candidate the GOP settled on passed away last weekend, a new round of recruitment efforts has been rebuffed by everyone on the list, including Fossella himself. At least eight potential candidates have said no to Republican efforts to get them on the ballot. McMahon looks very likely to take back the last Republican-held seat that touches any part of New York City.

Democrats have also reserved about $700,000 on Colorado's eastern slope and high plains, money targeted at ousting incumbent Republican Marilyn Musgrave. Musgrave's Fourth District, which looks like an inverted "L" hanging north and curving down the state's eastern edge, has been contested before, and while Democrats came close in 2006, they are confident in former congressional aide Betsy Markey's chances.

The ad buy comes largely in the Denver media market, which feeds into the bulk of the district's homes, with a smaller amount coming in the Colorado Springs-Pueblo market. Musgrave has a significant cash advantage, with more than $1 million in the bank through November compared with $376,000 for Markey. But the DCCC's commitment can take away Musgrave's advantage in a heartbeat.

Democrats aren't completely playing offense, though. The party has also reserved $1.2 million in advertising time in the Portland, Oregon market in order to defend retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley's seat. Hooley's district is the most competitive in the state, running from south of Portland and the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and including Salem, the state capital. President Bush won the district by a single point in both 2000 and 2004.

State Senator Kurt Schrader is in good position to keep the seat, as his Republican opponent, 2006 nominee Mike Erickson, has been battered by accusations that he paid for an abortion even though he says he is pro-life, accusations that first cropped up in the primary but have only gotten louder. Erickson came surprisingly close to beating Hooley in 2006, and he's got a lot of his own money to spend, but whether he will survive the scandal remains an open question.

Putting money into three seats so early gives the DCCC the opportunity to buy ads at cheaper political rates come the Fall. It does not, however, mean that Democrats have to spend their money in any of the seats. Democrats may find the New York and Oregon seats in their pockets by the time September or October roll around, and if the party decides the money is better spent elsewhere, they will do so.

With such a big cash advantage, look for national Democrats to plunk down money early and often. Republicans, who have yet to cross into the tens of millions of dollars on hand category, could find themselves hurt by increasing ad prices, especially as John McCain and Barack Obama start to make their own ad buys. But at least Republicans will know where Democrats are placing their bets.

OR Primaries Tight

Oregon voters are mailing in their ballots today not only to allocate the state's 52 convention delegates but also to pick candidates to take on incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith and to replace outgoing Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley. In both races, candidates are dealing with a hugely expanded universe of voters -- Oregon election officials expect 70% of registered Democrats to cast ballots -- that may change the outcomes.

In the race to beat Smith, State House Speaker Jeff Merkley, initially seen as the odds on favorite to win the primary, has faced a surprisingly strong challenge from Portland attorney and activist Steve Novick. Running to the left, Novick has characterized Merkley as politics as usual, while asserting he can draw the best contrasts with Smith. Polls have showed the two running neck and neck, though with more than 40% of the electorate undecided.

Should Novick win, it will be the first time a candidate handpicked by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer failed to make it out of a primary. Schumer recruited Merkley, albeit after several other better-known state Democrats refused to enter the race, and while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hasn't explicitly endorsed or advocated on his behalf, aides have made known that they believe Merkley would have the best chance to beat Smith in November.

In the state's Fifth District, Rep. Darlene Hooley dropped her bid for a new term citing health reasons, and her life couldn't have been made easier by the fact that her seat is a perpetual Republican target. The district, south of Portland stretching from the Cascade Mountains to the coast, voted twice for President Bush, though Hooley has usually won by ten points or more.

Running to replace her, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited State Senator Kurt Schrader, though Steve Marks, a former chief of staff to ex-Governor John Kitzhaber, is also running. Schrader has a political base and more money, though Marks has backing from Kitzhaber and former Governor Barbara Roberts. Both candidates jumped in the race late, given Hooley's late exit, in early February. Three other Democrats are also running, though none look like serious threats to Schrader and Marks.

The Republican side of the primary, in which turnout will be significantly lighter, has turned into one of the ugliest contests so far this cycle as late mail drops accused one candidate of paying for an abortion for a former friend. Mike Erickson, a businessman who ran in 2006, denied the story, as asserted in a letter sent to voters who hadn't cast ballots yet paid for by Kevin Mannix, a former state Republican Party chairman and candidate for other offices.

Erickson has name recognition from running in the district two years ago in one of the few seats Republicans thought they might pick up. Mannix, who has run for governor twice and served in the 1990s as a State Senator, has high name recognition as well. And while Erickson has vastly outspent Mannix, who got a late start in the race, the last-minute allegations -- true or not -- could have an impact.

After two competitive primaries in advance of the November elections, the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees are going to receive a lot of attention from their national parties. In such a swing district, in a presidential year, the seat could prove to be one of the tightest in the country.

OR Primary Goes Insane

As two top Republicans battle it out to score their party's nomination to replace retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley, the race has blossomed into one of the ugliest of the cycle thanks to a last-minute attack that will go down as one for the ages. Kevin Mannix, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2002 and a failed candidate for the same office in 2006, has charged his opponent with paying for an abortion after getting a woman pregnant several years ago.

Mannix's charge came in a letter to 60,000 Republican voters in the district who have yet to mail in their ballots, and is based on a 2006 email the woman sent to several media outlets with the story. The 33 year old woman told her story to the Portland Tribune's Steve Law, and though she didn't want to be identified for fear of retribution, but a friend confirmed the story on the record.

The opponent accused, 2006 GOP nominee Mike Erickson, a businessman from the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego, has vehemently denied the allegations, calling them "false allegations" and a "desperate smear that Kevin Mannix resorts to," in a statement posted by the Oregonian's Steve Mayes.

Erickson, who has been endorsed by Oregon Right To Life, spoke with the group about the incident in 2006, the Tribune reported, though the group found his denials credible. "These unsubstantiated and untrue allegations are from an email from 2006 that no news media reported at the time. They are just as untrue today as they were then," Erickson said in the statement.

This is not the kind of feuding Republicans need in their efforts to take back what will likely be a competitive House seat in November. Erickson lost to Hooley by eleven points in 2006, and President Bush carried the district narrowly in both his races. If Republicans field a good candidate, they would have a chance at winning the open seat, which stretches from the Cascade foothills, south of Portland and including Salem and west to the Pacific Coast.

Erickson has raised more than $900,000 this cycle after spending $1.8 million last time out, amounts that have largely come from his own checkbook. Mannix has been less prolific in his fundraising, but he has name recognition that Erickson might not, given his long history in Oregon Republican politics. Steve Marks, a former chief of staff to Governor John Kitzhaber, and State Senator Kurt Schrader are running on the Democratic side, though both started late and have raised significantly less money than the two Republicans.

Both parties are going to spend money in one of the few swing districts available on the West Coast, but if the Republican primary devolves into these kinds of allegations and rumors, Democrats might have an easier time than they thought retaining the seat.

Wrench In GOP's OR Hopes

When six-term Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley told supporters she wouldn't run for re-election, House Republicans thought they had a clear opening in a seat that favored them. President Bush won the suburban and exurban Portland district twice, by thin margins of about 5,000 votes each time, and a political neophyte willing to spend his own money had given Hooley a tough race in 2006.

That newbie, businessman Mike Erickson, is running again, and after putting more than $1.5 million into his own race last year, Republicans think they have a good candidate running in a good seat. They cannot welcome the news, then, that Kevin Mannix, another Republican, is joining the race. Mannix, a former State Senator, former state Republican Party chairman and the party's gubernatorial nominee in 2002, when he came within three points of upsetting Democrat Ted Kulongoski.

Mannix has run for several other offices, including Attorney General, in 2000, and a repeat race for Governor in 2006 (he finished second in the primary). Having been involved in politics in the state for close to two decades, Mannix is well-known among Republican primary voters, which is both a plus and a minus for him -- the 2006 gubernatorial primary, particularly, got nasty as Mannix and businessman and eventual nominee Ron Saxton went after each other.

Erickson and Mannix will face each other in a May 20 primary before going on to a general election. While Democrats have to be excited about the GOP primary, they have the little matter of nominating their own candidate to deal with. Many names have been floated -- including former Monmouth Mayor Paul Evans, Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader and her husband, State Senator Kurt Schrader and even current U.S. Senate candidate Steve Novick -- but no one has made their candidacy official.

After the primary, both candidates will have plenty of time to rearm and battle around a district that sprawls from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific coast and encompasses most of five counties. The seat, by November, could prove to be one of the closest and most heavily contested in the country.

Dem Out In Swing OR District

Six-term Oregon Democrat Darlene Hooley announced yesterday she will not run again this year, the Portland Oregonian reports. Hooley, 68, had been hospitalized late last year with a lung condition that prevented her from returning to Washington for a month. Her health troubles, combined with too much fundraising and travel between Washington and Portland, contributed to her decision.

Hooley's Fifth District rings suburban and exurban Portland to the South. Stretching south to Salem and west to the Pacific Ocean, the district includes both Oregon State University and the company that makes Tillamook cheddar cheese. The district holds heavily Republican and heavily Democratic areas, and the difference comes from Washington County, where independent voters determine the fates of candidates both in the Fifth and statewide.

The retiring Democrat, who first won her seat in 1996, has faced a series of competitive elections throughout her tenure, never winning with more than 57% of the vote and frequently finding the race much closer than that. In 2006, she beat Lake Oswego businessman Mike Erickson by a 54%-43% margin, though Erickson spent an impressive $1.8 million to Hooley's $2 million.

The district is competitive -- President Bush won it both times he ran, though by narrow margins of a little under 5,000 votes each time. National Republicans are excited for Erickson's chances this year; he's raised more than $170,000 so far and maintains over $130,000 cash on hand. Early in the cycle, that's not bad for the relatively inexpensive Portland and Astoria media markets.

The wealthy businessman has also shown a willingness to fund his own campaign, listing nearly $1.6 million in debts and obligations to himself in his year-end FEC reports. If he invests significantly more money in the race, he could outpace other candidates. Erickson will be aided by Senator Gordon Smith, who is running for re-election this year, though potentially wounded by a presidential battle. Once considered a swing state, Oregon is now safely in the Democratic column.

Possible candidates on the Democratic side include Senate President Peter Courtney, State Rep. Brian Clem and State Senator Kurt Schrader, along with his wife, Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader. While Democrats will have to rush to catch up with Erickson on the fundraising front, the seat will not be a blow-out on either side. Both parties have a good chance at what will turn out to be one of the most competitive seats in the country.