Progressive Challenger Defeats Incumbent Schrader in Dem Primary for Oregon’s 5th

Representative Kurt Schrader’s congressional career will end after seven terms thanks to a successful primary by a more progressive challenger: central Oregon attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner.

The loss, which was delayed for days due to ballot-counting issues in Clackamas County but became obvious late this week, marks a new and uncertain chapter for Schrader, 70, whose political career has spanned 25 years in Congress and the Oregon Legislature.

Before that, the former Oregon City veterinarian and longtime Canby-area resident had served 16 years on the Canby Planning Commission.

The final margins might change as Clackamas County, Schrader’s home, continues processing almost 35,000 damaged ballots, but McLeod-Skinner received almost 57% of the votes counted in the 5th Congressional District, which spans Portland to Bend.

A printing issue that forced Clackamas County to copy two-thirds of its ballots by hand has delayed results by more than a week.

Representative Kurt Schrader.

McLeod-Skinner tweeted that she was “honored” to be nominated shortly after the Associated Press called her race Friday morning.

“From Sellwood to Sunriver, Oregonians never stopped believing we can protect our families, our climate and our civil rights,” she said. “Oregonians — this is your victory.”

It’s the first time in 42 years that party-affiliated voters in Oregon have ousted a sitting member of Congress in a primary election. Schrader conceded defeat Friday evening in a statement released by his campaign.

“The majority of Democrats have chosen a different direction for now,” he said. “I congratulate my opponent on her tireless efforts and successful primary campaign.”

McLeod-Skinner will face Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former mayor of Happy Valley who lives just outside the new boundaries of Oregon’s 5th, which is allowed under state law. Chavez-DeRemer won her five-way primary race for the GOP nod with 45% of the vote, beating out former energy investor Jimmy Crumpacker, who nabbed 29%.

Lori Chavez-DeRemer.

The race will be a close one in the fall: Forecasters at the Cook Political Report classified it as a “toss-up” and forecasters at CQ Roll Call moved it from “likely Democratic” to “lean Democratic” after the primary.

The National Republican Congressional Committee views the 5th District as a pickup opportunity, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent the primary season campaigning for Schrader and attacking McLeod-Skinner.

Schrader was the top budget writer in the Oregon Senate when he launched his first congressional bid in 2008 in the wake of then-Representative Darlene Hooley’s retirement.

He easily triumphed in the primary, getting more votes than his four Democratic opponents combined, then cruised to victory in the general election that fall. He had never faced stiff competition in a primary or general election during six subsequent reelection campaigns.

But his fortunes turned this year when the redistricting process unloaded more than half of the district’s previous residents in the Willamette Valley and the coast, replacing them with tens of thousands of central Oregon Democrats who had never seen Schrader’s name on their ballot.

In this race, Schrader significantly outraised and outspent McLeod-Skinner. He collected nearly $2.3 million since January 2021 and spent almost $3.5 million, including reserves from previous campaign cycles. McLeod-Skinner raised a more modest $693,000 and spent $579,000.

And he earned the endorsement of President Joe Biden, appearing with him during a visit to Portland earlier this year.

But he angered progressive Democrats across the district with his votes against pandemic aid and pharmaceutical regulation last year. And, in a sign of the spreading discontent, Democratic officials in the four Oregon counties that now comprise the 5th endorsed McLeod-Skinner in the run-up to the primary.

It’s unusual for party organizations to actively work against an incumbent of their own party, but the organizers were committed, with the Clackamas County Democrats going so far as to draft and release a detailed position paper outlining dozens of votes by Schrader that they said went against the interests of Oregonians and the party’s platform.

Despite the parties’ work, Schrader pulled out clear, though not convincing, victories in three of the district’s four main counties, capturing 53 to 55% of the vote in Clackamas, Linn and Marion counties.

But it was not enough to overcome McLeod-Skinner’s huge victory in her home base of Deschutes County, which includes Bend, where she claimed 71% to Schrader’s 29%.

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