SALEM – Voters in a Portland-area congressional district nominated Democratic state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici and Republican business consultant Rob Cornilles on Tuesday in a special primary to replace Rep. David Wu, who resigned following a sex scandal.
The decision kicks off a campaign that both parties expect to be hard-fought and expensive. With 77 percent of precincts reporting, Cornilles had 73 percent of the Republican vote. Bonamici had votes from 66 percent of Democrats. More: Dem results | R results
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Democrats have a solid 13-point registration advantage in the nation's only vacant congressional district and have held the seat for decades.
But Republicans, coming off an improbable special election victory in New York last September, think they have a shot to bolster their majority in the U.S. House.
Cornilles is a sports-business consultant from the Portland suburb Tualatin.
He's faced little opposition for the Republican nomination and has focused his sights on the general election, noting he'll need support from independents and Democrats to score a victory.
Cornilles has downplayed his Republican affiliation, positioning himself as a centrist candidate with an independent streak.
Democrats have tried vigorously to tear apart that image and portray him as an extremist and tea party candidate. Bonamici is a lawyer who worked on consumer protection issues at the Federal Trade Commission before going into private practice.
She sells herself as a champion of the middle class and a legislator skilled at driving her agenda. Cornilles has said the district doesn't need another lawyer.
The Democratic primary also included Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian of Beaverton and state Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie, who launched campaigns before Bonamici but struggled to keep momentum after she entered the race.
Wu resigned in August after he was accused of making an unwanted sexual advance on an 18-year-old woman. The allegations followed months of reports about his bizarre behavior that concerned some staff members and supporters -- including taking an unknown medication from a campaign donor and emailing photos of himself dressed in a tiger suit.
The district is considered the economic engine of Oregon. It includes downtown Portland and major operations for Fortune 500 companies in suburban Washington County. It also includes rural areas in Oregon wine country and stretches to the Pacific coast.
The winners move on to the special election on January 31, 2012.