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Oregon’s incumbent Schrader poised to lose to McLeod-Skinner in 5th District Democratic primary

Emily Cureton
Jamie McLeod-Skinner celebrated on election night in Redmond, Ore., May 17, 2022. The insurgent Democratic candidate was cautiously optimistic after early returns put her ahead of seven-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, (D-Canby).

It would take a spectacular and highly unlikely showing in Clackamas County for Oregon U.S. Rep Kurt Schrader to avoid losing re-election, the latest primary election returns show.

Democratic party voters in the state’s 5th Congressional District appear to have rejected the seven-term incumbent, and chosen Terrebonne attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner to run against Republican candidate Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the November general election.

The all-but-certain upset would mark the first time in 42 years that party-affiliated voters in the state have ousted a sitting member of Congress in a primary election. Schrader is widely considered the most centrist Democrat in Oregon’s congressional delegation, derided by his more progressive primary opponent as an obstacle to the party’s agenda.

Official results will not be certified until June 13, though a Wednesday tally of ballots indicates Schrader would need to dramatically buck the current trend to overcome McLeod-Skinner’s lead.

She decisively won Multnomah and Deschutes counties by double digit margins. But in Clackamas County — where 45% of the district’s registered Democrats live — officials have bungled a process for verifying damaged ballots. What began as a printing error two weeks before the election has been compounded by a county clerk’s slow and evasive response to the issue. As of Tuesday night, fewer than half of Clackamas County ballots had been counted and uploaded, embattled clerk Sherry Hall reported.

Districtwide, McLeod-Skinner led by 18 points Wednesday. Still, Clackamas is Schrader’s home county, and it’s an open question as to how much the outlying ballots in his stronghold might sway final results. In 2020, Schrader defeated a different Democratic challenger, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, by 40 points.

But as this year’s primary’s results trickle in, a sweep for Schrader is looking more and more out of reach. His Clackamas County lead over McLeod-Skinner hovered under 10 points on Wednesday.

McLeod-Skinner has yet to officially declare victory, and Schrader’s campaign has not conceded, with both candidates pledging to wait until more votes are counted, even as more observers feel comfortable calling the race.

On Tuesday, Dave Wasserman, an analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, tweeted that results were clear, in his eyes. The Oregonian/OregonLive has also noted that Schrader’s odds of winning are bleak.

The potential historic turnover comes after Oregon state legislators redrew the 5th District’s boundaries, removing coastal communities and adding the Bend and Redmond areas.

Redistricting, and some voters’ concerns about the depth of his local ties, made Schrader more vulnerable. McLeod-Skinner’s campaign traveled the district and held a long list of campaign events. The congressman has weathered criticism for spending much of his time in Washington D.C. and at a home in Maryland.

Schrader’s campaign and its supporters outspent McLeod Skinner’s backers more than 6-1. But the deluge of pro-Schrader advertising was apparently not enough, nor was an endorsement from President Joe Biden.

Local party leaders mutinied against Schrader, saying they felt the longtime Congressman had repeatedly voted down his own party’s agenda, while advancing the interests of campaign backers like the pharmaceutical industry.

The Clackamas County Democrats were among four local parties that broke with tradition to endorse McLeod-Skinner. Vice-chair Cris Waller said Wednesday she wasn’t worried about Schrader recovering in the polls.

“With the trends that we’ve been seeing every day, it’s coming closer and closer to the point where Kurt Schrader has no way to win,” Waller said.

She also pointed to embattled Hall in Clackamas County, and the conspiracy theories that have begun to swirl around a drawn-out process for calling the race.

“The problems here stem from the incompetence of one person and not from any fault with the elections system itself,” Waller said.

McLeod-Skinner holds degrees in engineering, law and city planning, according to state filings. Her legal practice focuses on natural resource conflicts, and she works as a part-time emergency response coordinator for the Oregon Department of Human Services.

She ran a campaign largely focused on Schrader’s weak points, and was backed by the Working Families Party and key labor unions in Oregon. She has pledged not to accept money from corporate political action committees, something she attacked Schrader for doing.

This is her second attempt at a Congressional seat. McLeod-Skinner ran for the state’s 2nd District against former Republican Rep. Greg Walden in 2018. The failed effort boosted her popularity with progressive voters in Central Oregon metro areas, whose support proved decisive in her apparent primary victory for the 5th District nomination.

The redrawn 5th District leans Democratic, according to the Cook Political report. However, it’s less securely blue than it was before redistricting, and national Republican groups are expected to target the district’s voters in their effort to win a majority in the U.S. House.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

FILE: Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader speaks in support of reproductive rights after a Planned Parenthood event in downtown Portland on Friday, May 31, 2019.
Meerah Powell /
FILE: Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader speaks in support of reproductive rights after a Planned Parenthood event in downtown Portland on Friday, May 31, 2019.

Emily Cureton Cook