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Time Running Out for GOP to Play in Oregon Special

Don Ryan/Associated Press
Rob Cornilles is the underdog in the race for Oregon’s 1st district, but Democrats are still committing $1 million for ads attacking him.

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Several thousand miles away from Des Moines, Iowa, and 3,000 from Manchester, N.H., Democrats and Republicans are battling for attention in the first general election contest of 2012.

Ballots go out in Oregon’s 1st district at the end of next week, yet a volunteer at the Rob Cornilles for Congress phone bank last week still had to explain that ex-Rep. David Wu (D) would not be one of the candidates. Instead, Cornilles (R) and Democrat Suzanne Bonamici are running to replace Wu, who resigned his seat last year. The vote-by-mail election is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Oregonians have been distracted by the holidays and the University of Oregon Ducks’ Rose Bowl victory, so voters have yet to focus on the race. But because elections in the Beaver State are conducted entirely by mail and ballots will be distributed Jan. 13, party strategists have little time to make their final decisions.

On paper, the race shouldn’t be that competitive. Cornilles lost to Wu by double digits in the same district just more than a year ago, and Barack Obama crushed John McCain in the 1st district in the 2008 presidential election, 61 percent to 36 percent. That was 6 points better than what Obama won in the New York City district Republicans picked up in a special election last year. If Cornilles were to win, it would be the most Democratic district, in terms of 2008 presidential election results, held by a Republican in Congress.

But that hasn’t stopped the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from spending or committing more than $1 million in television ads to defend the seat, even though there hasn’t been any spending on TV ads by the National Republican Congressional Committee or outside Republican groups.

“It would be devastating for fundraising and momentum, nationally, if we lost this race,” one Democratic strategist said. “If the [ex-Rep. Chris] Lee and [ex-Rep. Anthony] Weiner elections teach anything, it’s that you can’t take a scandal district for granted,” another Democratic strategist said, referencing two New York districts that flipped in 2011 after scandal-plagued Members resigned.

“We’re aware of them,” Bonamici said in a recent interview from her campaign headquarters in Beaverton about Democratic losses in New York and Nevada special elections. “We’re working hard to get out the vote.”

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