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GOP skips many Portland House races

Districts with huge Democratic majorities may not be worth it

It’s not easy being a Republican in the Portland area. Just ask Bill Cornett. He has twice run for the House District 46 seat as a Republican, losing both times to Democrats who were better funded and had a more than 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration. (District 46 includes the Mount Tabor and Montavilla neighborhoods of Southeast Portland.) Cornett figured out what most Republicans running for office in the heart of Multnomah County have learned: Democrats dominate the political landscape. In at least seven House districts around the county, Democrats hold a better than 2-to-1 edge in voter registration. In some districts, there are more nonaffiliated voters than Republicans. “We’re outnumbered,” Cornett said. A handful of Democratic candidates will have a big advantage in this year’s election. The Republican Party of Oregon is not running candidates in 10 House races in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. Democrats won’t be challenged in House districts 31 (Sauvie Island and Scappoose to Astoria), 33 (Northwest Portland, northern Washington County), 40 (Gladstone and unincorporated Clackamas County), 42 (Southeast Portland and Ladd’s Addition area), 43 (inner Northeast, part of North Portland), 44 (North Portland, Northeast Portland around the airport), 45 (Northeast Portland to Interstate 205, Maywood Park), 46 (on both sides of 82nd Avenue south of Interstate 84), 47 (east Portland between I-205 and Gresham) and 48 (Powell Butte area, Happy Valley). It is the first time in six years that no Republican will be on the ballot in many of the districts. Since 2002, Republicans have skipped races only in House districts 31 and 45 a couple of times, running candidates in nearly all the other districts in 2004 and 2006. Statewide, there are no Republicans in 18 House races, most of them in areas where Democrats hold large voter-registration leads. “I think this is a tough year for Republicans,” said longtime Portland lobbyist Gary Conkling. A stumbling national economy, an unpopular war in Iraq and disdain for the Bush administration could be scaring away potential Republican candidates this year, he said. “I know a lot of Republican folks who say this isn’t a comfortable year for them,” Conkling said. “That doesn’t mean things won’t turn around. But for right now, it’s not a good time for them to run for office.” Added Tom Gallagher, a Salem political insider and lobbyist: “It’s pretty demoralizing to ask someone to run for office and try to raise a bunch of money, and then give them a walking list of Republican households in the district and you discover that it’s one in every 15 houses.” On the flip side, Democrats don’t have candidates in six House races, mostly in southern and eastern parts of the state, where Republicans dominate voter-registration numbers. Retaining seats comes first Democrats hold a slim two-vote majority in the 60-member Oregon House of Representatives. Winning control of the House is a goal, but Republican campaign officials said that this election they were concentrating efforts to “hold their own.” “It’s not that we’re completely writing off Portland and Multnomah County,” said Nick Smith, communications director for Promote Oregon Leadership PAC, the committee guiding and funding statewide Republican House races. “We’re focusing our resources on the seats we believe we can win.” State Rep. Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, the House Republican leader who has to find people to run for office, dismissed the negative talk about his party in this year’s elections. He pointed to strong Republican candidates in districts 49 (John Nelsen of Fairview) and 50 (incumbent Rep. John Lim of Gresham), which have more Democrats than Republicans, as examples that the party still was competitive in the face of difficult odds. Don’t be fooled by the numbers, Smith said. There are 43 Republican House candidates statewide in this year’s primary election, the same number the party ran in 2002, when it picked up several seats. In 2006, the party had 50 House candidates. Two years earlier, 48 Republicans ran for House seats. Republicans took a hard look at Portland and decided some districts didn’t look winnable this year, Hanna said. Recruiting candidates for the seats would have been a tough sell, he said. “That’s a lot to ask of someone.” Instead, Republicans are trying to win open seats and districts where voter registration numbers are more evenly matched, like Tigard and parts of rural Washington and Clackamas counties, he said. “I’m going to put on full-court pressure to keep every seat we have,” Hanna said. State Rep. Dave Hunt of Gladstone, the House Demo-cratic leader whose district has no Republican in the primary election, was surprised that Republicans had not put up candidates in some races. “I expected there to be much stronger and prevalent Republican candidates,” Hunt said. Other parties can play, too Just because Republicans aren’t in some of the races doesn’t mean Democrats will have a free ride in November’s general election. The Libertarian Party of Oregon is trying to find candidates for many of those same Portland-area House districts. “I’m hoping that we fill all of them,” said H. Joe Tabor, chairman of the state Libertarian Party, which holds its nominating convention in June. “My goal is to put as many people on the ballot as possible.” Tabor worried that Republicans weren’t “giving voters a chance” by not putting challengers on the ballot in regional House districts. “I think they’re missing a good opportunity,” Tabor said. “That’s what we need to do as Libertarians. We need to give the voters a chance.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.