Democrats are already lining up to succeed embattled Oregon Rep. David Wu in his Portland-area 1st district. The biggest question is whether they will compete in a special election or in next year’s regularly scheduled primary.
The Congressman had already attracted two Democratic primary opponents even before Friday’s revelation of alleged sexual misconduct.
Now, with Wu not seeking re-election and calls from inside the party for his resignation, more candidates are likely to enter the race in a district that has elected only Democrats since 1974.
State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Rep. Brad Witt, Democrats from different parts of the high-tech-focused district in the western suburbs of Portland, are already running. Avakian has been in the race for months and raised $195,000 in the second quarter. Witt entered the race three weeks ago.
Another Democrat insiders said would be a strong contender is state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici, who represents Portland and its northern and western suburbs. Bonamici is married to Judge Michael Simon, whom the Senate confirmed last month to the federal bench.
Under new district lines recently signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), the 1st district next election will include less of Portland’s Multnomah County, a strongly Democratic area that helped Wu get re-elected last year by 13 points.
“The $64,000 question is, ‘Does he resign?’” said Jim Ross, a San Francisco-based Democratic consultant who regularly works for candidates in Oregon.
Should Wu resign before the end of his term, the Oregon secretary of state’s office told Roll Call that the special would be held with the current lines in place. The first election under the newly adopted lines would be in next year’s primary.
Under state law, Kitzhaber is tasked with calling a special election if a Congressman resigns. If it is scheduled within 80 days of the resignation, the parties would nominate their candidates and no primary would be held. If it is scheduled after 80 days or more, a primary would be held before the special general election.
Despite the couple of points the district is expected to lose in Democratic registration next year under the new lines, Ross said the district should be an easy hold for the party with Wu gone.
“If you’ve got a good Member of Congress in that seat, they could be there for 20 years,” Ross said. “Imagine you have a good, solid Member of a Congress who does the constituent stuff and doesn’t have the personal foibles. They’re safe.”
On the Republican side, insiders said the names floating in GOP circles include businessman Rob Miller, 2010 nominee Rob Cornilles, state Sen. Bruce Starr and state Reps. Shawn Lindsay and Katie Eyre Brewer. Cornilles lost to Wu in a strongly Republican year but would bring instant name identification, while Miller is also seen as a strong contender.
GOP pollster Greg Strimple said Republicans would be competitive in a special because the “macro political environment still favors Republicans, even in Oregon,” and “the scandal surrounding this will deflate Democratic enthusiasm for the seat.”
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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