Republicans have a chance to gain seats in the state Senate. (File photo by Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

The first voting results announced Tuesday night in Oregon showed that two Republican candidates vying for seats in the Oregon Senate were in the lead.

Republican Sen. Kim Thatcher, running for the open seat of retiring Democrat Peter Courtney in the 11th Senate District in the Salem area, had 53% of the vote in returns tallied before 10 p.m. Her Democratic opponent, Richard Walsh, had 47%.

And in the 16th Senate District on the north coast, Republican Rep. Suzanne Weber had 55% of the vote compared with 44% for Democrat Melissa Busch.

Bryan Iverson, political director of the Senate Republicans, expressed confidence that Republicans would win those seats but he said others were still in play.

Democrats currently control the state Senate, holding 18 of 30 seats. If they lose one, they lose their ability to pass tax measures without minority support.

Republicans had hoped to gain ground in both chambers of the Oregon Legislature, riding on rising inflation, widespread homelessness and a perception of high crime along with dissatisfaction with Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C. and in Oregon. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has repeatedly been ranked as the least popular in the country.

Republicans have not controlled the Senate since 2002 and the last time they controlled the House was in 2006. 

But in 2010 amid the Great Recession, Republicans gained seats in the Senate and tied the House 30-30. 

In legislative gamesmanship, which party has a majority of a chamber is just one part of the equation. Another factor: the supermajority.

Under the state constitution, three-fifths of all members of the House and Senate must vote in support of a bill that raises taxes. That means a party that is in control with a slim majority can still face a blockade from the minority party. 

In the 60-member House, Democrats have 37 seats, one more than the 36 needed for supermajority control. They would lose their supermajority control with the loss of two seats.

Though going into the election, Republicans have been favored, Oregon Democrats remained optimistic Tuesday night.

“I think the assumption that the Democrats would be on their heels isn’t really proven to be true,” said Jake Weigler, a Democratic strategist.

Here are the races party officials are watching: 

3rd Senate District 

In initial returns, Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, had 52% of the vote compared with 48% for his Republican challenger Randy Sparacino, the current mayor of the district’s largest city, Medford.

Sparacino had a huge fundraising advantage over Golden: He raised $1.1 million compared with $212,000 for Golden, according to the Secretary of State. Democrats had an edge in voter registration – 54% to 41% for Republicans, according to Dave’s Redistricting.

Golden was first elected to the Senate in 2018 and Democrats have held the southern Oregon seat since 2003, with the exception of a Republican from 2017-2019.

10th Senate District 

In the 10th Senate District race in the Salem-area, incumbent Sen. Deb Patterson, a Democrat, was in a tight race against her Republican challenger Rep. Raquel Moore-Green. In initial returns, Moore-Green had 46% of the vote compared with 54% for Patterson.

This was the most expensive race in the Senate, with Moore-Green raising more than $2 million in campaign contributions. Patterson raised nearly $1.8 million.

Patterson won her seat in a special election in 2020, and Moore-Green was appointed to her 19th House District seat in 2019.

Republican representation is the historic norm in this district, which had GOP lawmakers in the seat from 2003 to 2021 despite a slight Democratic advantage in the number of registered voters. Democrats now account for 54% of registered voters compared with 41% for Republicans, according to Dave’s Redistricting. 

11th Senate District

Courtney, a Salem Democrat, has long held this seat but he will retire at the end of this term. That decision created an opening for others.

Thatcher currently represents the 13th Senate District,  which goes from Salem and Keizer north to Woodburn. But it moved north toward Portland in the latest redistricting plan, giving Democrats 59% of eligible voters compared with 36% for Republicans, according to Dave’s Redistricting. 

Thatcher opted to run in the 11th Senate District, which goes from Salem and Keizer north to Woodburn and where Democrats account for 51% of voters compared with 43% for Republicans. Walsh is an attorney and former member of the Keizer City Council.

16th Senate District

From 2007 until late last year, this northern coastal district from St. Helens to Tillamook, was represented by Betsy Johnson, a conservative Democrat who easily defeated her Republican challengers. Sen. Rachel Armitage was appointed to the seat after Johnson resigned to run for governor, and she is not running for the seat either.

Weber has served one term in the House while Busch has no elected experience.

Republicans have a slim voter registration advantage in the district of about 1.5 percentage points, according to Dave’s Redistricting. Weber has also outraised Busch by more than 80%, collecting nearly $398,000 compared with about $216,000 for Busch.

20th Senate District 

Republican incumbent Sen. Bill Kennemer and Democratic Rep. Mark Meek were neck-to-neck in initial returns in this district in the eastern metro area that includes Gladstone: Kennemer had 49% compared to 50% for Meek.

After redistricting, the district became more urban than it was before the last election. It now favors Democrats in voter registration by about 11 percentage points, according to Dave’s Redistricting.

Kennemer, a former House lawmaker, was appointed to the Senate seat in 2021. Meek has been in the House since 2017.

House races 

Officials are watching a few seats in the House that could change parties. One is the 19th House District in Salem. Currently held by Republican Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, it’s now open with her running for the Senate. Republicans are also eyeing the 21st House District north of Salem, which is currently represented by Democrat Chris Hoy who is not seeking reelection. Republican candidate Kevin Mannix, a former state legislator who ran for governor 2002, hopes to beat Democrat Ramiro Navarro Jr., a veteran, in the district. 

The 52nd House District, which includes Hood River and The Dalles, is an open seat following the resignation of the incumbent, Democrat Anna Williams. Republican Jeff Helfrich, a former state lawmaker and retired police sergeant, is running against Democrat Darcy Long, a financial advisor and city councilor at The Dalles. 

And in Clackamas County, Democratic Rep. Janelle Bynum, who was first elected to the state House in 2016, is fighting to retain her seat. The only Black woman in the Legislature, she raised $1.1 million compared to $245,000 for her competitor, Republican Kori Haynes, a small business owner who’s never held elected office.

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.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.