When U.S. Rep. David Wu stepped down this summer, several qualified candidates stepped up hoping to replace the embattled seven-term Democrat, whose career ended with a sex scandal.

The top of the Democratic field features three current or former state lawmakers with similar stands on key issues.

But on the Republican side, there are big differences among the three most active candidates and, in our view, a clear choice for GOP voters: Rob Cornilles.

Cornilles ran against Wu last November earning 43 percent of the vote, he proved to be an energetic campaigner and a good fit for a district where a candidate's views on the economy matter more than any litmus tests on social issues.

The Oregon native (he graduated from Newberg High) is founder and owner of Game Face, a 16-year-old sports marketing company based in Tualatin.

As a small business owner, Cornilles speaks passionately about the need to get people back to work and his refusal to participate in partisan gimmicks (he won't sign a no-tax pledge or vow to repeal the new federal health care law) indicates he's a guy who will work toward solutions rather than stand on soapboxes.

In the Republican primary, Cornilles is mainly fending off snipes from the right. The most pointed barbs come from Jim Greenfield, who lost to Wu in 2002.

The Tigard talk-show host has embraced the Tea Party platform of cutting taxes and shrinking government. Like many of his fellow philosophical travelers, he carries a well-worn copy of the U.S. Constitution but he actually seems to have read it. He knows his history (or at least a selective slice of it), has a good grasp of the current economic challenges and the best sense of humor in the entire field.

Still, Republicans will be ill-served by someone who wants to return the federal government's role back to what it was in the 1770s, or even the 1970s. The district desperately needs someone on Capitol Hill who can be part of serious conversations and for that you need more than a pocket guide to the Constitution.

As for the rest of the GOP field, none are mounting a serious challenge to Cornilles. Lisa Michaels has some name recognition from her role as a cable-access host. But during this month's candidate debate at Pacific University she proved she's not ready for prime time, offering vacuous platitudes pulled from the Tea Party playbook.

State and national Democrats, who assume Cornilles will win the Nov. 9 primary, are already hammering away at him. They are pushing a story that Cornilles has backed off previous conservative stances in an effort to appear more moderate.

If that's true (and we're not convinced it is), that could turn off independent voters in January's general election. But for Republicans, Cornilles is the obvious pick in the primary.

Next week: Our choice in the Democratic primary.

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