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.”
“It’s not as good as running in the 2nd [district], but it’s a good district for Republicans as far the state of Oregon goes,” Strimple said.
The Oregon Democratic Party is still awaiting official word from Wu on whether he is even running for re-election. A Congressional aide confirmed to Roll Call that he will not run again, but the seven-term Congressman has yet to tell party leaders back home what his intentions are.
Over the weekend, Wu spoke with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) following a Friday night report in the Portland Oregonian that an 18-year-old daughter of a friend and campaign donor left a message at Wu’s district office accusing him of sexual misconduct.
On Monday, Wu was seen on the House floor talking with Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and a few other Members. Honda later declined to comment on what they discussed.
Pelosi has asked Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) to investigate whether Wu engaged in any “inappropriate activities” that violated House rules, according to a letter she sent Monday to the committee.
Though the House Ethics Manual details the conduct it expects from Members in relation to their official duties — including rules regarding gifts, travel and outside income — any ethics inquiry into Wu’s alleged sexual encounter would fall under a general clause that requires lawmakers to conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”
Meanwhile, several state legislators and prominent Democrats in Oregon called on Wu to step down immediately. Avakian, who was the first to challenge Wu, said in a statement late Sunday that the Congressman staying in office “ensures the voters of the First Congressional District will be without effective representation for the next 17 months as Wu is subject to a House Ethics Committee investigation and faces a complete loss of authority and influence within the Democratic caucus.”
In an interview with Roll Call on Monday, Witt said he is not calling for Wu to resign, but the realities of the situation are such that he probably should.
“Particularly, it appears at least that he is in need of some professional help at this point,” said Witt, who worked for years at the AFL-CIO. “The folks in the 1st Congressional district need the very best representation they can get in Congress. They need a Congressperson who is at the top of his or her game.”
Amanda Becker and Jessica Brady contributed to this report.