PORTLAND, Ore. – Seven-term U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, a centrist who was endorsed by President Joe Biden, has been ousted in the Democratic primary in Oregon by progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner after results were delayed more than a week by a ballot-printing issue.
The vote count in the state's 5th Congressional District was sloweed because tens of thousands of ballots were printed with blurry bar codes, making them unreadable by vote-counting machines. Workers in Clackamas County, the state's third-largest county, had to transfer votes by hand to fresh ballots so they could be tallied. That process continued Friday for other races yet to be called.
McLeod-Skinner had the backing of the local Democratic parties in all four counties covered by the redrawn seat, which now leans a little less blue. In her campaign, she urged stronger action to combat climate change and complained that Schrader was too conservative. She also portrayed Schrader as a politician who. had lost touch with his party's base and in the pocket of large pharmaceutical companies on issues like prescription drug prices.
McLeod-Skinner will face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in November. Chavez-DeRemer is the former mayor of Happy Valley, Oregon. She has said she will support businesses and police and address “the crisis on our southern border.”
In a statement on Twitter, McLeod-Skinner thanked Schrader for his years of service and said Oregon Democrats should see the contest's outcome as “an evaluation of our ideas and as a confirmation of our values.”
“From Sellwood to Sunriver, Oregonians never stopped believing we can protect our families, our climate and our civil rights,” she wrote. “Oregonians — this is your victory.”
Biden made Schrader his first endorsement of the year but it didn't help the moderate Democrat in a district that now includes Bend, one of the state's fastest-growing Democratic areas where McLeod-Skinner had more name recognition.
Schrader has voted against some of Biden’s priorities, including a money-saving plan to let Medicare negotiate the price it pays for prescription drugs. A year ago, he was one of only two members of his party to vote against a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill because, among several reasons, he did not support including an increase to the minimum wage.
Those decisions may be what cost him re-election, said John Horvick, political director at the nonpartisan public opinion firm DHM Research.
“He’s a moderate, but it’s more specific to the issues where he went against the party,” he said. “The big one is really his reluctance to support Democrats on prescription drugs. You can break with your party in a lot of different areas but a highly salient, deeply held position in the party — that was a deal breaker."
What remains to be seen is if McLeod-Skinner will compete well in the general election in a district that is split fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats' hold on the seat could be at risk if moderate voters perceive her as too progressive, he said.
The Republican nominee, Chavez-DeRemer, is endorsed by the third-ranking House Republican, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York — an endorsement Chavez-DeRemer highlighted in her primary campaign in a crowded field. That might play well in more conservative parts of the redrawn district that stretches from the Portland suburbs toward rural central Oregon.
“To me, it's a toss-up race going forward and candidate quality is going to matter,” Horvick said. “The opportunities for Oregon to be central in the national conversation is higher this cycle than any cycle I can think of in recent memory.”
This story has been updated to correct the description of Oregon's redrawn 5th District.
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