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McTeague faces long odds against Schrader

Dave McTeague’s candidacy against Democrat Kurt Schrader for the 5th District congressional seat is something rare — an intra-party challenge of a sitting U.S. representative in Oregon.

But the most recent time such a primary-election challenge succeeded in Oregon was back in 1980, when 31-year-old Ron Wyden dislodged three-term Democrat Bob Duncan from the 3rd District congressional seat. Duncan also had served two terms as the 4th District representative in the 1960s.

Political observer Jim Moore says he’s not surprised that McTeague is making such a bid.

McTeague was a state representative from Milwaukie from 1985 to 1995 who identifies with the insurgent presidential candidacy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Like Sanders, McTeague has criticized Schrader’s tentative support for the 12-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Schrader is backing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president.

“It makes sense that Schrader would get a challenge from the left of the party,” says Moore, who teaches at Pacific University.

“But the power of the incumbency is huge. McTeague is not well known, Schrader has not made any big gaffes, and Oregon does not seem to be in the revolutionary political mood we have seen in other years.”

From 1996 until he retired in 2014, McTeague was executive director of the state board that oversees chiropractors.

McTeague was often left of his party, even when Democrats were in the majority in the Oregon House from 1985 to 1991. Schrader, who was in the Oregon Legislature 12 years before his own election to Congress in 2008, was more centrist — and as a three-time Senate co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, he was part of the inner circle of decision-makers.

Incumbent advantage

The re-election rate for sitting U.S. representatives, over the past several decades, usually hovers around 90 percent. When there have been shifts in party control — such as in 1994, 2006 and 2010 — they have resulted largely from one party dominating open-seat contests with no incumbent.

Even in 2010, a bad year for congressional Democrats, Schrader won a second term by 5 percentage points over a well-funded Republican challenger.

In his most recent race in 2014, Schrader defeated Republican Tootie Smith, a Clackamas County commissioner and former state representative, 54 percent to 39 percent, with the balance split among three other candidates.

Still, Schrader generally votes less often with his party than the other Oregon Democrats in the House — Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici and Peter DeFazio.

The 5th District, which extends from Clackamas County south into the Mid-Willamette Valley and the central coast, has the closest division between Democrats and Republicans of any of Oregon’s five House districts.

According to January figures compiled by the secretary of state, Democrats make up 36 percent of registered voters, Republicans 33.3 percent, and those not affiliated with any party, 23.2 percent. The rest are with the Independent Party and minor parties.

The largest group of Democrats is in Clackamas County with 43.3 percent, followed by Marion County at 33.4 percent and Polk County at 9.3 percent. Two coastal counties (Lincoln and Tillamook) account for 10.9 percent, and small slivers of Benton and Multnomah counties, the rest.

Although the major parties traded the 5th District seat three times in the 1990s, Democrats have now held it for 20 years.

Rated safe for now

The three major congressional rating services — Cook Political Report, Rothenberg-Gonzales/Roll Call, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball based at the University of Virginia — list all of Oregon’s House seats as safe for Democratic or Republican incumbents in this election.

But their latest ratings were released before McTeague announced, and about the same time as the entry of Ben West of Wilsonville into the Republican primary, which already had two candidates.

West and Paul Rummell were the lead plaintiffs in one of the two lawsuits challenging Oregon’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriages. A federal judge declared the ban unconstitutional in 2014, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a similar ruling.

Two more recent intra-party challenges for Oregon’s U.S. House seats met with mixed results.

Republican Greg Walden easily turned back an effort by then-Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum for the 2nd District congressional seat by a 3-to-1 margin in the 2014 primary. Walden is in his ninth term.

Democrat David Wu resigned the 1st District congressional seat in 2011 in the aftermath of allegations that he made sexual advances toward the daughter of a campaign donor. State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian had announced he would challenge Wu for re-election, but it was state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici who beat Avakian and state Rep. Brad Witt in the Democratic primary for the seat she holds today.

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