Oregon Republicans pick Walden successor, DeFazio challenger

Democrat Kurt Schrader fends off primary challenge

Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden is retiring after 11 terms.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden is retiring after 11 terms. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 19, 2020 at 11:59pm

Republican primary voters in Oregon chose a former soldier who starred as himself in a Clint Eastwood movie and a farmer who fled the state when he served in the Legislature as their nominees for two House seats Tuesday, while a moderate Democratic incumbent survived a challenge from the left.

Former state Sen. Cliff Bentz won the GOP primary in Oregon’s 2nd District on Tuesday in the race to replace Rep. Greg Walden, the only Republican in the Beaver State’s congressional delegation, who is retiring after 11 terms.

With 70 percent of precincts reporting, Bentz was leading a crowded 11-candidate field with 32 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race. Bentz will be the heavy favorite in the deep-red, rural district that backed President Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election Solid Republican

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The GOP primary attracted more than $1 million in outside spending, with some of it spent to bolster Bentz, who resigned from the state Senate to run for Congress. The political arm of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which bills itself as the governing wing of the GOP, spent $225,000 backing Bentz.

A television ad from the group featured a narrator saying Bentz would stand with Trump “to take on the liberals who put our future in China’s hands.” 

Bentz, a lawyer and farmer, was among the group of Republican state senators who staged a walkout at the Legislature last year to prevent action on climate change legislation. Bentz went to Idaho to be outside the jurisdiction of the Oregon State Police, as did other GOP colleagues. “We’re not just going to get steamrolled,” he told The Oregonian.

DeFazio to face famous veteran

Republicans in the 4th District chose Alek Skarlatos, an Afghanistan veteran who gained fame for thwarting a terrorist attack, to take on 17-term Democratic Rep. Peter A. DeFazio.

The National Republican Congressional Committee listed DeFazio as one of its initial 2020 targets, although he has easily won reelection since his first race in 1986. Trump narrowly lost the 4th District in the southwest corner of the state by less than two-tenths of a percentage point in 2016. 

Skarlatos, who served with the Oregon National Guard, became famous in 2015 when he and two friends helped disarm a terrorist on a Paris-bound train. He went on to star in an Eastwood-directed film about the ordeal and also appeared on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” He lost a close race for Douglas County commissioner in 2018. 

DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, starts the race with a financial advantage. He had nearly $1.6 million in the bank as of April 29 compared to $109,000 for Skarlatos.

Inside Elections rates the 4th District race Solid Democratic

Schrader fends off primary challenge

Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader easily fended off a primary challenge in the 5th District from Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba.

With 33 percent of precincts reporting, Schrader led Gamba, 70 percent to 24 percent, when The Associated Press called the race. 

Gamba ran to Schrader’s left, backing liberal policies, including the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All.” Schrader is a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and runs the group’s PAC. 

The six-term congressman is expected to be in a strong position to win reelection in November against Republican Amy Ryan Courser. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic