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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.

“In my worst year of hiring, I’ve hired more people than my opponent’s best year,” said Cornilles, eager for a debate over job creation. “For any small-business owner, there will be bumps in the road. This district gets that.”

Weighing the Numbers

Cornilles might be right about the business acumen of the 1st district, but its partisan divide looks to be his biggest challenge. The Republican is running as an outsider with a bipartisan approach in a district where Democrats need few independent voters to win. Through September, Democrats had a considerable edge of 42 percent to 30 percent in voter registration, while 22 percent were nonaffiliated voters.

The only public poll in the race, conducted in mid-December by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, showed Bonamici with an advantage of 52 percent to 41 percent and didn’t give Republicans any additional reason to get involved.

Democratic strategists are adamant that their spending is merely an “insurance policy” and similar to Republican efforts to hold Nevada’s 2nd district last year. But it looks as if the DCCC will exceed the NRCC’s volume of TV ads from that race, 4,579 versus 4,170 gross ratings points. Republicans were also defending a district where McCain received 49 percent, while Obama carried this Oregon district with 61 percent.

With time running out, it’s likely that any potential players will soon take one last look at the race. Even though GOP strategists praise Cornilles as a candidate, they’re discouraged by the district’s demographics and reluctant to spend money winning a seat that would be costly and potentially impossible to hold in November. But there is little evidence he can win this race on his own against Bonamici, the DCCC and other Democratic groups.

Because most voters are just tuning in, there is time for the dynamic to change. The candidates will face off Friday in a big debate at the Portland City Club. But it looks as if the string of wild special elections is at least temporarily over.

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