Three of Oregon’s congressional races are competitive. (File photo by Les Zaitz/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Democrats led in two competitive Oregon congressional elections after early results posted Tuesday night, while a Republican was ahead in the race to replace outgoing Democratic U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader.

Val Hoyle, a Democrat and the state labor commissioner, held a 10-point lead over Republican Alek Skarlatos in the 4th Congressional District shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday. In the 5th Congressional District, Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer led Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner by 5 points. And in the 6th District, Democratic state Rep. Andrea Salinas led Republican Mike Erickson by 4 points. 

Nationally, Republicans remain favored to take the U.S. House, though their chances at a majority depend on the eventual outcomes in close races like the ones in Oregon. 

Nonpartisan political analysts and Republican critics described Oregon’s redrawn congressional districts as a Democratic gerrymander, likely to give Democrats five of the state’s six congressional seats. But national trends and well-funded Republican campaigns made the 4th, 5th and 6th districts competitive this year.

Hoyle was outgoing Rep. Peter DeFazio’s pick in the 4th District, which includes Eugene and much of southern and coastal Oregon. She previously represented the area in the state Legislature for eight years. 

Skarlatos, a former Army national guardsman who became a minor celebrity after stopping a terrorist on a Paris-bound train, lost to DeFazio in 2020. He also had an unsuccessful run for Douglas County Commission in 2018.

Hoyle ran ads based on Capital Chronicle reporting about a 2018 podcast appearance in which Skarlatos joked about choking women, and an adviser to former President Barack Obama condemned Skarlatos’ use of Obama in response ads. The 4th District race also featured late spending by a shadowy group designed to convince progressive voters to support a Green Party candidate instead of Hoyle. 

The 5th District extends from Portland through farmlands in Marion County, across the Santiam Canyon and into Deschutes County. Nonaffiliated voters represent the largest bloc, with more than 175,000 registered voters, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, nearly 172,000 to 147,000. The district voted for President Joe Biden by 9 points in 2020.   

McLeod-Skinner, an attorney and emergency management from Terrebonne in rural Jefferson County, built a base among Democrats in central Oregon during her unsuccessful run for Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018, and her strength in Bend helped her unseat Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader in the May primary. 

She’s more progressive than Schrader. Her biggest campaign challenge has been convincing moderate Democrats, Republicans and nonaffiliated voters that progressive policies will help their families. 

Chavez-DeRemer, the former mayor of Happy Valley and owner of an anesthesiology and wellness business, prevailed in a competitive GOP primary. She based her campaign on public safety and criticizing the Biden administration for inflation and gas prices. 

The race for the new 6th District is one of the state’s ugliest, with Erickson suing Salinas for $800,000 and threatening legal action to overturn election results should Salinas win. The legal dispute resulted from a Salinas campaign ad about Erickson’s 2016 arrest for drunken driving, which led to police finding unprescribed oxycodone in Erickson’s wallet. 

Salinas and national Democratic allies have run ads calling Erickson a hypocrite for opposing abortion despite paying for a girlfriend’s procedure in 2001. This year, Erickson and other Republican candidates have downplayed their opposition to abortion.

Erickson, a logistics consultant, loaned his campaign more than $2.4 million and raised less than $900,000 from other sources. Salinas, a state representative and former lobbyist, raised more than $2.8 million for her campaign. 

Erickson touted his business experience and criticized Salinas as a “career politician.” Salinas described immigration and labor rights as touchstones of her campaign – her father immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a child in 1950, and he picked tomatoes and cotton in fields alongside his farmworker parents. She was one of the authors of a recently passed Oregon law ensuring overtime pay for farmworkers.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.