Stapilus: Tight races loom in House, but shift in control unlikely

Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress
Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress
##Randy Stapilus
##Randy Stapilus


Two years ago, the Democratic majority in the 60-member Oregon House slipped from 37 seats to 35.

Could Republicans win a majority this year? Probably not, though it’s not entirely out of the question.

Democrats have more vulnerable state House seats this time than Republicans do. But Republicans have some statistical vulnerabilities of their own.

All 60 House seats are up for election this year. That gives both parties an opportunity to make a significant shift.

Realistically, the chances of that happening are limited, though. In fact, about two-thirds of House members were elected in landslide fashion last time.

In our polarized world, most Oregon legislative districts are simply out of reach for candidates from the other party. That includes 21 districts now represented by Democrats, and 18 held by Republicans.

The party strength in those areas mostly aligns with party registration. Only four House legislators — all Republicans — represent districts where the other party holds a registration edge.

About two-thirds of Oregon’s House members were elected by margins of more than 20 points, normally a marker of not just a personally strong incumbent, but also of a district where one of the major parties is so dominant it is nearly invulnerable. And some additional districts, like that of House Majority Leader Julie Fahey in Eugene and retiring Republican Rep. Brian Stout of Columbia City, fall just short of that 20-point mark, so would be almost as tough to flip.

Thirteen House races were decided last election by fewer than 10 points, and in that range, seats can be relatively competitive. Attention is likely to be focused this year on some of those districts.

Incumbents have filed for reelection for nearly all of those seats.

Many are in compact geographic areas east and south of Portland — into Clackamas and Hood River counties — and in and around Salem. Others are in regions that have become politically marginal, such as around Springfield, the Hillsboro-Forest Grove area and the north coast from Astoria through Tillamook.

It’s not coincidental that in an area of what looks like the hottest U.S. House race in the state this year, District 5, overlaps a number of these districts.

The good news for Republicans is that nine of those districts are represented by Democrats who won tight races. If Republicans flipped as many as six, without losing any of their own, they could control the House.

On March 12, the Evergreen PAC, which supports Republican candidates, released a statement highlighting Republican House candidates “in some of Oregon’s most competitive districts,” releasing a list that included Districts 7, 19, 26, 39, 40, 48, 49, 50 and 53, which saw many of the closest House races in 2022.

The two closest 2022 races both were won by Democrats: Annessa Hartman (District 40, Oregon City), who won by half a percentage point, and Emerson Levy (District 53, Bend), who won by 1.3%. And they could be highly competitive again this year.

But the incumbents do have some advantages, starting with a Democratic edge in voter registration, and the fact that since this year is a presidential election year, turnout is likely to be higher. That usually provides a small advantage to whatever party has the registration advantage.

The other Democrats with winning margins in the last election within 10%, starting with the closest election, were: Hoa Nguyen (District 48, Portland), Ricki Ruiz (District 50, Gresham), John Lively (District 7, Springfield), Zach Hudson (District 49, Troutdale), Courtney Neron (District 26, Wilsonville), Susan McLain (District 29, Hillsboro) and Tom Andersen (District 19, Salem).

That’s a significant collection of realistic targets for Republican candidates. Collecting the five seats needed for a tie or six to take control is a tall order, though, because all of those districts have Democratic advantages in voter registration.

Republicans, in contrast, hold just four seats won by 10% or less. They are Cyrus Javadi (District 32, Astoria), Tracy Cramer (District 22, Woodburn), Jeffrey Helfrich (District 52, Hood River) and Kevin Mannix (District 21, Keizer).

All four of these incumbents are in fragile positions, partly because Democrats hold registration advantages over Republicans in each.

Javadi won by 2.5% over a Democrat, but he faces the headwind of a 9.3% Democratic registration edge. Cramer has a more extreme case: a 3.2% win last election, and a 15.1% Democratic advantage.

Those four Republicans likely will be top Democratic targets this year.

Of course, the strength of the campaigns of these candidates, and their opponents, has yet to develop. In close contests, that could be decisive.


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